The e-mails are piling in from all over the world looking for an edge in this week's championship round. I've even received e-mails from long-lost friends that I haven't seen in about a decade. The late-season injuries to Terrell Owens, Willis McGahee and the questionable tag alongside Fred Taylor's name make for some difficult decisions this week. And let's not forget the problems caused by the early playoff seedings clinched by Philadelphia and Atlanta.
The fearless trio of Brandon Funston, Matt Romig and yours truly, Mike Harmon, are inspired and refreshed (or is it worn-down?) by the holiday season and seek to aid a handful of readers with tough choices for this week's extended slate of games. Don't forget to leave out the eggnog and cookies.
It would take a leap of faith to plug Parker, Williams or Rice in the lineup. Rice will have to contend with the return of Koren Robinson from suspension, which will likely cut his playing time in half. As for Parker and Williams, they've missed way more than they've hit, thus far.
Galloway and Fitzgerald offer the most promise. Galloway has five touchdowns in his past three games, but he has yet to produce more than 78 yards in any of his seven games played. He'll face a Carolina defense that has yielded just 14 TD passes. The Panthers' cover-2 defense limits the deep passing game, which is Galloway's forte. Further damning evidence against Galloway is the fact that he picked up just three catches for 34 yards in a meeting with Carolina in Week 12.
Fitzgerald faces a Seattle defense that is incapable of putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. And that has created all kinds of trouble for its secondary. After holding receivers scoreless in the first three weeks of the season, Seattle has allowed 17 TD's to WR's in its past 11 games (tied for the NFL high during that span). Fitzgerald was responsible for one of those TD's, going for 73 yards and a score against the Seahawks in Week 7. The body of evidence should reward Fitzgerald with the start.
I'm going to start Fitzgerald ahead of the hotter Galloway because I like his matchup better and Jon Gruden is hinting at working Chris Simms into some game action down the stretch. That raises continuity concerns. Plus Galloway was out when Simms saw action earlier this season and you always wonder if a young quarterback will gravitate toward throwing to one of "his guys."
Since Anquan Boldin returned, he has 46 receptions to Fitzgerald's 25. There's no question that Boldin is Arizona's top target between the 20's, but in that same span Fitzgerald has four touchdowns to none for Boldin. The red zone belongs to the rookie. He scored twice last week and has a Week 7 touchdown versus this week's opponent, Seattle. The Seahawks have been plenty generous to opposing receivers in the season's second half. Last week both Justin McCareins and Santana Moss found the end zone, so we know there's enough to go around to satisfy two receivers.
With Koren Robinson returning from suspension, Jerry Rice's reps will be reduced. Toss him out. Though the Texans have allowed 31 passing touchdowns on the season, Reggie Williams has topped three catches only twice this season and has eclipsed 50 yards receiving just once. Eric Parker turned in a big game against Tampa Bay in Week 13 (118 yards, one TD), but has contributed only four games above 50 yards to the Chargers' resurgence. He's got to sit as well.
That leads me to a choice between Galloway and Fitzgerald. I love the skills of the rookie and the Seahawks defense has been floundering of late. He put up 73 yards and a score in their first meeting and scored twice this past week against St. Louis. However, he fights for looks with Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson. I anticipate another solid performance out of Joey Galloway this week. He's scored in three straight games, opposing defenses are working to clamp down on rookie 1,000-yard receiver Michael Clayton and Bucs are fighting for a playoff berth. Galloway wins by a nose.
Earlier this week, I had a hard time advising an owner to sit Volek and go with Peyton Manning, but that's what I ultimately suggested. Volek has been a fantasy machine, throwing for at least two TD's in six of the seven games that he's seen significant action. But I'm not a fan of his matchup this week. Let's face it, his eight TD passes and 900-plus passing yards combined for the past two weeks have come at the expense of the two worst fantasy defenses against opposing quarterbacks, Oakland and Kansas City. If you look at Denver, the team Volek faces in Week 16, it has only allowed three above average fantasy games by opposing quarterbacks in the 14 games its played.
Green has the luxury of facing that generous Oakland pass defense this week. Volek touched them up for 492 passing yards and four TD tosses last week. And Green had his way with them in Week 13, throwing for 340 yards and three TD's. With nine TD passes in his past three games, Green is nearly as hot as Volek. And given that Green's matchup this week is much more cushy, I think you have to give him the starting nod.
Nice luxury to have. One that can drive you crazy, too. I have a similar dilemma this week deciding between Kerry Collins and Volek on two rosters. It's hard to find a downside with either of your options. Needless to sa, they are both red-hot. They are both at home. Neither opponent can stop the pass. It will be cold in both cities but snow and rain are not forecasted Saturday in Nashville or Kansas City.
I think you need to start Green and then forget you even have Volek on your roster. Oakland is awful against the pass under normal conditions. This week they are likely without both starting corners, as both Phillip Buchanon and Charles Woodson are doubtful. Conditions are perfect for a big day from Green. Neither team in this matchup can stop the pass. This has all the makings of a shootout. Oakland doesn't even try to run the football. They can't engineer eight-minute scoring drives like Tennessee's opponent (Denver) might. Trent Green will spend plenty of time on the field Saturday and, in this matchup, that can only mean good things.
The past three weeks, fantasy owners and fans have been treated to a remarkable string of performances from Billy Volek and Drew Bennett. The absence of Chris Brown for the bulk of this period forced the Titans to redistribute the rock. As a result, Volek has averaged more than 390 yards passing and thrown 11 touchdowns. However, I don't see that streak continuing against the Broncos, even if Denver is crumbling down the stretch. Denver's defense allows only 191 yards per game and just above a TD per game. Therefore, I would start Green.
The Chiefs and Raiders rank at the absolute bottom of passing defense heading into this contest. Therefore, expect a shootout. Lost in the euphoria of the Titans offense, Trent Green has three straight three-TD games. And that's with Larry Johnson running wild! Oakland has contained opponents under 20 points only once this season.
Here's a juicy one. Which two of these guys do I start in Week 16: Michael Pittman, Shaud Williams, Lee Suggs, or the Denver Duo (Tatum Bell and Reuben Droughns)? I'm going for the championship but am at a total loss on this. – Rob from Islip, NY
I'd have to reward Lee Suggs for topping 100 yards last week after sitting the previous three weeks with an injury. And he did it against the NFL's top rush defense, the San Diego Chargers. He'll face a Miami defense that has a better reputation against the run than the actual production reveals. The Dolphins have allowed 11 backs to top 90 rushing yards. And they've yielded five TD's to backs in the past two weeks. Suggs should be good for another 90-100 yards, with at least a 50-50 shot at scoring. I'd take those odds.
Pittman has not had much success with his Week 16 opponent, Carolina. He's averaged just 40 rushing yards and 2.8 yards per carry in his five most recent meetings with the Panthers. He did have 134 receiving yards and two TD catches in his last meeting in Week 12. But rolling the dice that he'll be able to dominate as a receiver out of the backfield again is extremely risky business. That said, Pittman is my other choice. With Droughns and Bell expected to split carries, and Williams likely to give away carries to Joe Burns, Pittman is the only other back among this list that I feel confident will get at least 15-20 carries. Ultimately, I'm going to gamble on the back that I know is going to be on the field. Pittman has enough big-play potential that I'm willing to roll those dice.
Let's start with Lee Suggs. I'm starting him. The Dolphins are allowing a league-high 133 yards rushing per week to opposing running backs. Suggs may be the only Cleveland player who hasn't quit on the season. Last week he banged out 100 yards against a normally punishing San Diego run defense. I'd be surprised if Suggs doesn't top 80 yards and score against Miami.
I'm going to pair him with Michael Pittman. This is your championship week and you can't afford a goose egg out of any of these guys. Williams' role has yet to be clearly defined and with Bell and Droughns, you never know. Bell has replaced Droughns as the featured back after one series in each of the last two weeks, but what happens if Reuben returns to early-season form on that first series? Too risky. Since Week 9, Pittman's worst single-game performance resulted in 79 total yards from scrimmage. In the last seven weeks, he's been above 100 total yards four times and he has eight touchdowns. The last time he met Carolina he had 134 receiving yards and two scores. He's your safe play.
Suggs runs well between the 20's, but given the state of the Cleveland offense, he needs to break a long one to find the end zone. Reuben Droughns' workload had dropped off precipitously with the emergence of Bell. But Bell is banged up with a bad shoulder. Therefore, sad as it seems, I need to recommend avoiding the Denver backfield this week. The question of the workload split is too large to suggest either of them for the championship tilt.
Obviously, you'll need to verify that McGahee is, in fact, shut down for this week. If he is, Williams makes for a solid play against San Francisco. The 49ers have allowed 18 touchdowns via the ground, which ties them for second behind Cleveland. Also, Drew Bledsoe has topped 30 pass attempts only six times on the season. I'd pair Williams with Michael Pittman. In the first contest with Carolina, Pittman was contained on the ground, but added eight catches and two scores via the air. He's the undisputed starter in the backfield, and that goes a long way in the championship round.
Collins burned me repeatedly early in the season, so I have a hard time warming to his recent success. I tend to focus on his negatives. While I understand he's facing an awful Kansas City defense that he torched for 343 yards and three TD passes in Week 13, I'm focused on the fact that he has managed just one good fantasy performance on the road. In six road games, he's thrown for more than one TD pass just once (at Denver). In nearly the same number of pass attempts, Collins has 13 TD passes and just four INT's at home compared to just six TD tosses and 12 INT's on the road.
Favre travels to Minnesota, a place that he has thrown for 10 TD's in his past four visits. And Favre's last four-TD game came against the Vikings in Week 10 at Lambeau Field. You can always count on games between Green Bay and Minnesota to be high scoring – the teams have combined for at least 48 points in each of its past five meetings. I expect this week to be more of the same, and I'm taking Favre.
Dennis Rodman could learn a thing or two about rebounding from Brett Favre. Including last week, Favre has thrown two or more interceptions six times this season. In his first five bounce-back games, he has thrown 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. It's like he just needs to get those ill-advised throws out of his system. Sure, in those five rebound games he's been the beneficiary of some good matchups, but that's exactly what he has this week against Minnesota.
It's hard to bench Collins, but the loss of Ronald Curry still concerns me. Sure he ran up big numbers last week, but you're pretty much guaranteed an Arena League score against Tennessee these days.
Both quarterbacks are playing in favorable matchups this week. Favre faces a struggling Minnesota defense (Joey Harrington tossed two TD passes last week) and Collins faces the abysmal Chiefs defense. Only Houston and the Packers have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Chiefs. The X-factor is the amount of involvement from Ahman Green and the running game for the Packers.
Since the Raiders coaching staff has burned all of the pages with running plays, you have to roll the dice with Collins. He's been shut out of the end zone just twice against tough defenses in Denver and Atlanta. Kansas City can't stop anyone, so a big day for Collins is on tap.
Considering that L.T. has scored in 13 of 14 games, you'd be crazy to sit him. My decision would come down to the New York backs.
Martin faces a New England run defense that he hasn't scored against in his past six meetings. And, as a matter of fact, he has never scored against them at home. The Patriots have a dominating run defense that has allowed just seven TD's to RB's this season. Barber, meanwhile, is managing to scrap together a decent living in the post-Kurt Warner era. At first, Barber's production sunk drastically with Eli Manning behind center, but Barber has found paydirt in each of his past two games. With Manning coming off his first solid passing performance of the season this past week, that should help open things for Barber against a Cincinnati defense that has allowed eight 100-yard rushers this season. Barber would be my choice to pair with Tomlinson.
Tomlinson starts. Assuming you only have to bench one of these guys, I'd sit Martin. The Jets play New England, a defense every bit as imposing as Baltimore's when it comes to stifling opposing running backs. Somehow Miami scored three rushing touchdowns on them last week despite gaining only 54 yards on the ground. How did they do it? It helps that one was scored on a two-yard drive set up by a punt return. Another came after a Tom Brady interception. Prior to last week, the Patriots had not allowed an opposing running back into the end zone since Week 8. Martin may get up for playing his old team, but he hasn't scored a touchdown against New England since 2001.
Tomlinson is the no-brainer of this trio. He's been held out of the end zone only once this season, and has recorded three straight 100-yard games. Therefore, you must make your choice between the resurgent New York backs. I'd start Tiki Barber over Curtis Martin, using the matchup as my guide. New England is coming off an embarrassing loss against Miami and will be revved up to shut down the Jets running game. Barber faces an improving Cincinnati defense, but compared to those teams faced in the past five weeks, it's a cakewalk. The Giants offense pushed the Steelers to the limit last week and will post 30 points for the second straight week. Barber returns to the century mark with one or two touchdowns.
- Brandon Funston
- Mike Harmon
- Joey Galloway
- Reggie Williams