Mike's Mailbag: Party's Over

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The party's over. With the final gun of Sunday night's Dallas-St. Louis contest, the 2005 fantasy football season will come to an end. It seems like just yesterday that we were posting our mock drafts and debating where players such as Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Willis McGahee, and Kevin Jones should be drafted. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, and even the best draft on paper can be sabotaged by egos, coaching blunders, injuries, and well, under-performing, to put it kindly.

Here's to your successes and the challenges overcome to reach this grand stage. I'm digging into the mailbag one last time to aid in roster decisions. Then, we'll all enjoy the playoffs and big game in Detroit, and start it all over again when Paul Tagliabue says those magic words. "With the first pick …" Good times, indeed.

Championship week … which QB do I start? Tom Brady, Josh McCown, Chris Simms, or David Carr? Also, do I start Shaun Alexander this week or not?Jeff in Philadelphia, PA

Jeff –
You are certainly rich in fine options at the QB position this weekend. I dare say that most reading this piece who submitted QB questions would be envious. I would rank them in the following fashion. 1. Josh McCown 2. David Carr 3. Tom Brady 4. Chris Simms

Now, for the breakdown on why they're ranked as above. I put McCown first because Arizona QBs are averaging 40-plus passing attempts. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are both on the verge of topping the 100 reception mark for the year. And, with the Colts playing as many subs in the final three quarters as possible, the Cardinals will air it out. Let's not forget that McCown has the added incentive of showing off his arm for prospective employers in '06.

Carr is second by virtue of playing the 49ers. Additionally, the Texans front office needs to evaluate him for 2006 with a huge roster bonus hanging out there. As such, he'll be looking to replicate his big Week 16 performance.

Brady ranks third on the possibility that he sits out the second half if Bill Belichick and company determines that the offense has achieved its objectives. He's mainly healed from the shin injury of a couple weeks ago, but an extra half without getting hit would go a long way. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go for 200 yards and two scores before departing, but I wouldn't bank on it either. Belichick is too much of a wild card here.

Simms ranks last because I believe this becomes a showcase for the running game against the Saints. Carnell Williams ran wild in Week 16 to get them the win deep in overtime, and I believe Jon Gruden leans on him heavily again this week. Simms will be his normally efficient self here, but as we've seen, that doesn't always put TDs in his stats column. In fact, ahead of last week's two-TD performance, he'd thrown only one TD in the previous three weeks.

As for Alexander, he sets a new TD record and piles up some yards before he sits down in this one. Mike Holmgren wants to get as much good will toward his star back as possible before heading to the playoffs and ultimately, the negotiating table. Dance with who brung ya! (my apologies to any former teachers of mine that read that last line)

I have a QB dilemma this week. Should I start Eli Manning or Trent Green?Doug in Nashville, TN

Doug –
I like both players' matchups this week. Manning faces an Oakland defense that doesn't force many turnovers (only five on the year), but will be without favorite target Jeremy Shockey. His loss will change the play-calling in the passing game and turn things back to the ground game. Manning piles up yards on the road (269 per game), but struggles to find the end zone (only nine TDs in seven games). I believe the Giants will move the ball down the field and that Manning will load up over 225 yards, but that you're looking at one TD from him, with points coming more from Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs, and Jay Feely.

I'd look to Trent Green this week against the Bengals. Cincinnati has proven to be susceptible to big scoring days (look to Baltimore a few weeks back), and Larry Johnson is seemingly unstoppable right now. The Chiefs are looking to take care of their end of the bargain as they battle for the last playoff spot in the AFC, and I believe you'll see another 200-plus yards and two scores out of Green this week. The offensive line is healthy and playing their best ball of the year, keeping opposing defenders off of Green. In last week's win over sack-happy San Diego, the Chiefs' O-Line allowed only two sacks for 10 yards. He'll have time to throw again this week with Eddie Kennison healthy, Johnson a threat out of the backfield, speedy Samie Parker, and, of course, Tony Gonzalez as his targets.

Troy Walters vs. Amani Toomer, and Dallas Clark vs. Jermaine Wiggins: Who should I start? I am playing for the championship.Ron in Hoffman Estates, IL

Ron –
I like Walters in the matchup against Arizona, as he'll be the primary target for Jim Sorgi with questions all throughout the Indianapolis receiving corps. But, as I indicated above, I believe that the Giants will be able to move the ball and put some points on the Raiders. With Jeremy Shockey out, it means more opportunities for Toomer, who has been on a tremendous streak of late. He's scored in five of his past seven games, and hauled in at least five passes in six of those contests.

As for the TE question, I'd turn to Wiggins despite his sore ankle. I suspect that Clark's totals resemble those put forth in Week 16, where he factored into the opening series or two, and then ceded looks to the other TEs on the Indy roster. Wiggins scored his first TD of the season last week against Baltimore, catching seven balls for 43 yards. He also had his biggest game of the year against the Bears back in Week 6, when he caught 10 passes for 68 yards.

After an up-and-down season riddled with injuries, I find myself in the championship game this week. Thus, I need your expert advice to lead me to victory. At running back, who should I start along with Corey DillonTatum Bell or Jerome Bettis? My league uses two wide receivers, so who should I line up across from Steve SmithT.J. Houshmandzadeh or Plaxico Burress? I'm leaning toward Bell over Bettis, and Houshmandzadeh over Burress. Just curious as to what your thoughts are. Thanks for the wonderful advice you provide every week.Mark in Aurora, IL

Mark –
Congratulations on your championship run and thanks for your kind words. Now, let's get you a title. In the running back slot, I lean to Bell over Bettis. Bell needs 131 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, and Mike Shanahan and company would like nothing more than to get him that total against the Chargers. Mike Anderson has already been ruled out for Saturday's game, and though you'll see Ron Dayne in the mix, Bell will pile up 20 or more Touches this week. Ironically, Larry Johnson ran for 131 yards on them last week. Interesting, eh? Seriously, I believe that Bettis will certainly get an opportunity to continue his short yardage dominance, but that Willie Parker will shoulder the load. So, Bell has to be the pick in that slot.

In the receiver position, as cold as he's been, the loss of Jeremy Shockey to hamstring opportunity will mean more targets for Plaxico Burress. I believe he'll atone for the drop of the sure TD to start the game against Washington last week. It's been quite some time since Burress piled up any numbers (over 100 yards five weeks ago), but I believe he'll find success against the Raiders secondary. He gets the nod over Houshmandzadeh, who continues to struggle with his injured foot. Houshmandzadeh has not practiced this week, and though speculation is that he'll play his normal reps, Marvin Lewis won't take any chances with his stars. I believe rookie Chris Henry sees more Looks instead.

Down to the wire, Mike, and I need your help. Would you start at the TE position – Heath Miller or Alex Smith, or still available on waivers – Jeb Putzier, Zachary Hilton, Doug Jolley … please help!Alex in La Jolla, CA

Alex –
You've certainly got several top performing TEs for this week at your disposal. I'm looking squarely at the New Orleans-Tampa Bay matchup and Alex Smith and Zachary Hilton. The attention paid to Carnell Williams and the need for New Orleans to move its linebackers into the box to stop him will leave the middle of the field open for Smith. I believe he's the play this week, building off of his eight-catch, 75-yard performance of Week 16.

I'm in the championship this weekend and have a running back quandary. I will definitely start Larry Johnson, who by the way I consider my best draft move, keeping him on the bench until Holmes went down. I have to pick one of these to start – Willis McGahee, Steven Jackson, Thomas Jones or Michael Turner?Jim in Houston, TX

Jim –
McGahee gets the call from this group. Thomas Jones has been spectacular, but with the Bears' playoff spot secured, he's not likely to see much playing time against the Vikings. As soon as he hits 1,300 yards early in the contest, the Bears will turn to Adrian Peterson. Steven Jackson has been inconsistent down the stretch, battling both injury and illness along the way. He's scored just once in the past four weeks, with three games under 70 total yards. With Michael Turner, he's a threat to go the distance with every carry, but I suspect that LaDainian Tomlinson plays most of this game, as San Diego looks to play spoiler on Kansas City this week.

That leaves McGahee, who will face a Jets run defense that allows 135 yards and nearly 1.25 TDs per game. His 66 rushing yards in Week 16 was his highest total in three weeks, and he did find the end zone in Week 15. I'm still a bit concerned on his drive and decisiveness in short yardage situations. McGahee struggled from inside the five on several carries a week ago, no doubt sabotaging many championship dreams. I don't think that happens this week at New York.

I have Jimmy Smith, Donte' Stallworth, and Deion Branch for my two WR slots. Whom shall I send?Walter in Covington, LA

Walter –
I'm looking at Smith and Branch from this trio. I believe you'll see production out of Smith in the finale against a Tennessee pass defense that has surrendered 31 passing touchdowns. Byron Leftwich is determined to get some playing time, and he's not battling to get back on the field to hand the ball off. Smith has topped 70 receiving yards in five of his past six outings while averaging nearly six receptions. Branch averages 8.6 Looks per game and will undoubtedly be a factor throughout this game, regardless of what occurs with Tom Brady and Corey Dillon's PT. He's a big play threat, having recorded receptions of 19 yards or more in four of his past five games.

I'm not a huge fan of Stallworth and the Saints' passing game against the Buccaneers. He caught three passes for 20 yards in their first meeting when the Buccaneers absolutely terrorized Aaron Brooks. Todd Bouman will be the man harassed by blitzing backers this time around. Additionally, Stallworth has been plagued by drops of late, and has gone for fewer than 50 receiving yards in four of his past five games. He's got the ability to make a big play, but Tampa Bay will clamp down heading into the playoffs.

Thanks to everyone who's written into the mailbag this season with your questions, concerns, comments, and quandaries. It means a lot to me to read through them and get a feel for the decisions you're making on a weekly basis. And, of course, to throw my two cents in when I can.

Here's hoping for pinball-like point totals for your teams in this championship week, and for a dominant beginning to a new year.


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