And down the stretch they come!
For most leagues, there are just two weeks remaining in the regular season and the final playoff berths are still up for grabs. Two of the leagues in which I am participating have become a veritable fantasy version of the NFC, which is to say that every team save one (every league needs a San Francisco) is still mathematically alive.
Unfortunately for some, their top picks have been either inconsistent when on the field or inconsistent in getting onto the field. Injuries have played as big a role in derailing teams' playoff hopes as waking up to find that you're facing Peyton Manning again.
Surely, there's at least one spot on your squad that poses a particularly difficult sit/start decision this week. Whether you need to fill in for an injured running back or roll the dice on a QB change, it's now or never for your championship dreams. We'll touch on this very topic in this week's NFL This Week and Fantasy Forum discussions (coming Friday).
For now, let's get inside the numbers through Week 12:
Reuben Droughns has topped 100 yards in six of the seven games that he has been the featured back. The lone exception was the Week 8 shootout with Atlanta. He still racked up 112 yards in that game once you toss in his receiving efforts.
Coming off of two monster seasons in Denver (15.5 touchdowns per season), could anyone have seen a paltry three touchdowns out of Clinton Portis? How about the fact that Emmitt Smith has three times as many touchdowns as Portis and four times as many as Fred Taylor?
In last week's victory over Baltimore, Tom Brady of the Patriots was held without a touchdown for the first time this season. That halted a 13-game TD streak.
The Cardinals will line up with four rookies on offense against Detroit this week. Former Michigan signal caller John Navarre will take snaps from fellow rookie Alex Stepanovich. Emmitt Smith is out with an ankle injury, leaving former UNLV standout Larry Croom to shoulder the load. And of course, Larry Fitzgerald is still just a rookie.
With five games left in the campaign, four quarterbacks have already surpassed 3,000 passing yards (Marc Bulger, Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green), with Donovan McNabb knocking on the door (2,892). Last year, only Manning and Green topped the 4,000-yard mountain.
Armed with the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a model of efficiency. Ben Roethlisberger stands eighth among NFL quarterbacks by producing 8.1 yards per pass play. Not surprisingly, Peyton Manning leads the pack at 9.1 yards per pass play.
For what it's worth, Manning currently has a 13-game TD streak going.
Love trick plays? Heading into Week 13, 14 players are perfect in their passing attempts. Five running backs, four wide receivers, three punters, one kicker and one QB (Rodney Peete) make the list.
Say thank you to the defense again, Baltimore fans. The Ravens offense ranks 31st in the NFL with 160 first downs this season. Only the Bears trail the Ravens.
As for Alexander, he still stands atop the rushing yardage leaders, despite a 39-yard effort in Week 12. Edgerrin James has closed the gap to just a four yard difference.
We know about the efficiency of the Indianapolis offense. Let's heap praise on the defense for a moment. The Indy defense has turned in 29 takeaways this season. Combined with the offensive dominance, the Colts lead the NFL with a plus-17 takeaway/giveaway differential.
Not surprisingly, the train wreck that is the San Francisco 49ers are on the opposite end with a minus-16 differential.
Here is your late-week injury update as we head toward the games of Week 13:
- Plaxico Burress is expected to return to the lineup for the Steelers after missing one game with a hamstring injury. They'll need him against the Jacksonville defense on Sunday night.
- Duce Staley will also return to the field. He'll likely split time with Jerome Bettis and work his way back in slowly.
- Todd Heap expects to hit the field for the first time since Week 2 against the Bengals. His sprained ankle is finally healed enough to get back on the field. But, that was said four weeks ago. Watch this one on Sunday morning.
- Kelly Holcomb turned in a monster performance in a losing effort against Cincinnati last week. Now, he'll join Jeff Garcia on the sidelines with cracked ribs. Rookie Luke McCown will get the start this week for the Browns.
- Brian Griese missed a portion of practice with a hip flexor injury. Several weeks back, he was sacked seven times by the Falcons and knocked down another half-dozen times. Word is that Griese expects to start, but with that type of pressure, can he finish?
- Tyrone Wheatley of the Raiders sustained a hamstring tear in Week 12 against Denver. Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas will split carries against Kansas City.
- The Ravens list Jamal Lewis as doubtful for Week 13. Just like Heap, check back on Sunday.
- Ahman Green practiced with a flak jacket on Wednesday and expects to be in the lineup against Philadelphia. If he can't go, Najeh Davenport is a solid play against the Philly run defense.
- Chad Pennington expects to be under center as the Jets host the Texans this week.
Be sure to check the pages of Yahoo! Sports as kickoff approaches for the Game Day Calls, which will eventually overflow with important injury updates. Don't get caught with an injured player in a starting position.
Good luck with your playoff hunt!
- Peyton Manning