Congratulations to those advancing to the semis or the finals in your respective leagues. The long road that began in April with the NFL draft and your scouring of information in a Mel Kiper-esque fashion has led you to the crowning event of the season.
We saw a number of huge performances from our top running backs – Larry Johnson, Tiki Barber, Shaun Alexander, and Mike Anderson. Tom Brady, Mark Brunell, and Kyle Boller (yes, Kyle Boller!) led the way for QBs, and Randy Moss made his one catch count. Of course, the quest for perfection ended, and nobody dominated the fantasy bottom line in that one.
It's time to get you up to speed on the fantasy landscape heading into this all-important showdown weekend, where more than one heckling phone call will be placed during Christmas dinner. Bad form perhaps, but there will always be spirits available to dull the pain.
WEEK 15 UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Have we seen the last of Brett Favre on the big stage? OK, it's a trick question, as the Packers host the Bears in the first of two Christmas Day games, but Monday's loss to the Ravens was embarrassing for all in the green and gold. And, but for some effort by his receivers, it didn't need to be. Both Robert Ferguson and Donald Driver came up short on tosses to the end zone, changing the complexion of the game. You can't dismiss the balls thrown into double and triple coverage, and the loss of Samkon Gado after his strong start to the game certainly didn't help (MRI results forthcoming on his injured knee), but the veteran QB was clearly disturbed by this defeat. Can he rally the troops one more time in the frozen tundra against a swarming Bears defense? Packers fans are hoping for Santa to drop them some love in the form of a victory over the Bears, as that would make up for part of this disappointing campaign.
Mark Brunell and Chris Cooley put up the double-take performances of the week. Brunell capitalized on every Dallas mistake (and there were many) in throwing four TDs in what is normally a low-scoring dogfight. He connected with Cooley on three of the TD passes in the 35-7 rout of the 'Boys. The Giants are up next for Washington as they look to stay alive in the playoff picture.
The Kansas City-New York game on Saturday night featured two of the most brilliant performances by running backs we've seen this year, and some of the worst tackling ever. Amani Toomer shook free from a would-be tackler to give Eli Manning his lone scoring strike on the day, and several of Tiki Barber's big runs came as a result of a heaping helping of his heart and ability with a side of poor technique. Larry Johnson topped 100 yards rushing for the seventh straight game and scored multiple touchdowns for the fifth time in seven games.
Finally, Carson Palmer and the Bengals won their 10th game of the season in front of a "home" crowd in Detroit by a count of 41-17. Palmer redeemed himself for a sub-par Week 14 with three TD strikes, while Rudi Johnson continued to score in pairs. Next up is a home date with Buffalo, still reeling from the pounding administered by Mike Anderson in the second half of Saturday's game. With Chris Perry still sidelined, a date with the porous Buffalo defense signals a dominant championship week performance from Johnson.
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- Michael Turner, RB, SD: He's a must-own player if you're a LaDainian Tomlinson holder, and a must-steal from waivers player if you don't. Tomlinson's ribs are sore and his availability for Week 16 against Kansas City is in question. That means that Week 15 hero Michael Turner could receive the bulk of the workload this week. His electrifying 83-yard sprint capped the Chargers' upset win and showed that the Chargers have a second potent backfield component. Further information on Tomlinson's condition should be available in the next day or two.
- Rex Grossman, QB, Chi: He sparked a fire in the Chicago offense that had been missing, and the defense had even more spring in their steps, if that's even possible. Grossman threw darts to Muhsin Muhammad and made him relevant once again. Week 16 finds the Bears playing on Christmas day against a Green Bay team that got thumped 48-3 on Monday and surrendered three passing TDs to Kyle Boller. Throw it all out in the grudge match at Lambeau Field, but Grossman will have the opportunity to make plays against the Green Bay secondary. We'll know early in Sunday's game whether the Packers have packed their bags for the offseason.
- New England Defense: The front seven is healthy and building up a head of steam as the playoffs approach. They dominated Chris Simms and the Buccaneers on Saturday, rendering Carnell Williams and Joey Galloway useless. The Jets are next on the slate in the final Monday night contest of the year. It shan't be pretty for Brooks Bollinger.
- Jamie Martin, QB, STL: Joe Vitt hasn't named a starter for Week 16 against San Francisco, but Ryan Fitzpatrick's ineffectiveness the past two weeks got him yanked midway through the narrow loss to Philadelphia. Whoever starts still has Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce at his disposal, and that's at least worth a bench slot if your QB is an injury question for Week 16.
- Jonathan Wells, RB, Hou: Domanick Davis's knee is acting up again, and that likely means that Wells will see the bulk of action in the final two weeks. He ran 28 times for 87 yards and two scores in the 30-19 over Arizona this week. The Houston Chronicle reports that Davis will be a game-time decision at best for Week 16 versus Jacksonville. Jacksonville has been susceptible to plays in the running game, as evidenced by Frank Gore's production this past week, making Wells a solid play in Week 16.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Darrell Jackson, WR, Sea: Jackson experienced a tremendous reintroduction to the field after missing nine weeks due to his arthroscopic surgery. He scored a touchdown and snagged six balls for 72 yards. The Seahawks are firing on all cylinders as they face the Colts in Week 16 with one more win needed for securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They'll look to MAtt Hasselbeck to keep up his late season magic as Indianapolis becomes the 15th team to try and contain Shaun Alexander.
Donte' Stallworth, WR, NO: Todd Bouman had a rough day under center, but he was able to find Stallworth for some big gainers. Stallworth caught five balls for 102 yards and a TD. With two games to play, Stallworth has established new career highs for receptions (62) and yardage (837), and needs one TD reception to tie his high of eight as a rookie in '02.
Tiki Barber, RB, NYG: His stock for '05 can't get any higher, but as I start thinking about '06 rankings, Barber will be one of the most interesting placements. His second 200-yard game of the year was a thing of beauty, as he ran the Giants into the driver's seat in the NFC East. The Giants will continue to lean heavily on him in the final two weeks, particularly with the recent struggles of Eli Manning under center.
Rod Smith, WR, Den: Jake Plummer looked in the direction of his veteran receiver early and often in Week 15, connecting with Smith 11 times for 137 yards and his sixth TD of the year. Smith has caught five or more passes in seven straight weeks, but hadn't topped 79 receiving yards since his last 100-yard effort in Week 6. The Broncos still need to win to gain a first-round bye, so look for them to click on all cylinders this week against Oakland at home.
Frank Gore, RB, SF: It remains to be seen how much, if any, time veteran Kevan Barlow will receive in the backfield in the final two weeks (knee injury), but Gore has shown the ability to pick up the torch if called upon to do so. Gore amassed 136 yards of offense on 22 Touches in the narrow loss to Jacksonville. With run-deficient opponents in St. Louis and Houston left on the schedule, Gore has the opportunity to put up big numbers.
Chris Cooley, TE, Was: After you take a second to criticize the tackling of the Dallas Cowboys, it's hard not to be impressed by the dominance of Cooley in the skewering of the Cowboys. He registered his highest reception total since Week 10 with six, and doubled his season TD output. Cooley's total of 64 receptions ranks fourth among tight ends in '05, one ahead of Giants powerhouse Jeremy Shockey.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Sea: Hasselbeck has been the model of efficiency this season, tossing at least one TD pass in all but one game. He's gone to a new level in the past two weeks, tossing seven touchdowns against one interception and completing 81 percent of his attempts. Week 16 brings Indianapolis and likely the second-stringers for the Colts in the second half. Keep an eye on this contest as game day approaches.
Ryan Moats, RB, Phi: OK, Moats only gained 11 yards on 19 carries, but that 12th one makes all the difference. Moats busted off another long TD run for the second week in a row, breaking tackles and scampering 59 yards to pay dirt. He'll next face an Arizona defense that allows 112 yards and nearly one and a half TDs per game on the ground.
Nate Kaeding, K, SD: Kaeding has become the symbol of productivity in the kicking game, pounding four field goals and two PATs in Sunday's win over Indianapolis. He's kicked multiple field goals in three of the past five games with at least three points in every contest. The Chargers are on the road at KC for Week 16, so conditions may be dicey, but he's become a must start in this San Diego attack.
Ben Troupe, TE, Ten: He hasn't scored since Week 5, but Troupe's stock is up off the season-ending surgery to Erron Kinney. Troupe turned in the first 100-yard game of his career against the Seahawks, hauling in six passes for 116 yards. He's snagged three or more balls in four straight weeks.
Kyle Boller, QB, Bal: I just had to show the embattled QB some love after his dominance of the Packers on Monday night. Boller completed 19-of-27 attempts for a season-high 253 yards and three scores. Believe it or not, Boller has a five-game scoring streak right now. He showed great touch in this contest, finding gaping holes in the Packers' coverage. Boller has a two-week audition to solidify his case for the starting job in '06 against the Vikings and Browns.
Thomas Jones, RB, Chi: Jones, and that suffocating defense, teamed to down the Falcons on a frigid night in Chicago. He tied his season high with 27 carries for 91 yards and found the end zone for the second straight game. Jones has accrued at least 87 yards of offense in five straight games, and now faces a Green Bay defense that surrendered more than 100 yards and a TD to Jamal Lewis in Week 15.
Josh McCown, QB, Ari: McCown is one of the hotter commodities on the waiver wire this week following the injury to Kurt Warner. McCown went 1-for-4 with an interception on Sunday before succumbing to "flu-like symptoms." With weapons Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald at his disposal, it's easy to see the gambler's appeal against the Eagles. However, I think I'd place my bet on another arm in championship week.
Todd Heap, TE, Bal: Heap has been solid performer in a bad offense all season, but it was clear that the Packers had no answer for him on Monday night. Heap piled up nine catches for 110 yards and two scores in the rout and seemed to be standing by himself virtually all night long. It was Heap's second multi-TD game in his past four outings and his first 100-yard game since Week 7 of 2003.
Indianapolis Colts Offense: Danger, Will Robinson! I don't want to beat the proverbial dead horse, but this week's game against Seattle is a trap door for owners of the Indy offense, as Tony Dungy will likely play his starters for one half, at most. Additionally, the Colts are not likely to employ the full offensive package with the possibility of facing Seattle again in Detroit. Dominic Rhodes makes for a big waiver wire option this week. .
Chris Brown, RB, Ten: Brown's rushing totals have been abysmal of late, failing to amass more than 61 yards in five straight games. In three of the past five weeks, he did at least add yardage in the passing game, but that was not to be in the loss to Seattle this week. Brown gained 56 yards on the ground and failed to record a catch while failing to find the end zone for the third straight game.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Det: Garcia must have thought that he was wearing an orange t-shirt like the fans, as he tossed three interceptions in Sunday's 41-17 loss to the Bengals and was replaced by Joey Harrington. Garcia has thrown single TD strikes in three of his four games since relieving Harrington in the starting role, but he's thrown for under 140 yards in three straight outings. The Lions haven't announced the starter for this week against New Orleans, but does it really matter?
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, SD: The Chargers won the battle, but LaDainian Tomlinson owners might have been bounced to the curb in the fantasy playoffs with his third consecutive scoreless game. He ran for 76 yards, but was not on the field in the final minutes of the victory over Indianapolis, fueling speculation that his bruised ribs are much worse than is being reported. Owners cannot count on a huge effort this week on the road at Kansas City, where the Chiefs have dominated December games going on a decade.
Plaxico Burress, WR, NYG: Burress extended his scoreless streak to four games with a two-catch, 34-yard performance against the Chiefs in Week 15. Eli Manning's recent struggles have hurt nobody more than his No. 1 target. Manning either bounced it into Burress or threw it over his head at least a half dozen times on Saturday, failing to give his receiver a chance to make a play. Manning typically throws for a higher yardage totals on the road (three straight over 250), which gives one hope for the same this week at Washington.
J.J. Arrington, RB, Ari: Arrington turned in his biggest workload of the season in Week 13 against the 49ers, carrying the ball 18 times for 59 yards. It appeared that he was ascending at that point. However, he's accrued only 16 carries over the past two weeks for a meager 37 yards. Perhaps the loss of Kurt Warner forces Dennis Green to turn to the running game more in the final two games, but that seems unlikely.
Brad Johnson, QB, Min: Johnson turned in his second straight scoreless effort in the Vikings' first loss since he ascended to the starting role. He was also kept less than 150 passing yards for the second straight week. He next faces the Ravens on the road. The Baltimore defense allows only 11.7 points per game.
Joe Horn, WR, NO: It's been a season of sad days for Horn owners in 2005. He turned in his eighth straight game without a TD reception on Sunday, catching a single pass for six yards against the Panthers. Horn has topped 60 receiving yards just once in his past six games.
Drew Bledsoe, QB, Dal: Bledsoe experienced a one-week resurgence against the Chiefs with his three-TD outing in Week 14. He did an about-face in Week 15 with three interceptions and a fumble lost against a single TD versus Washington. That marked the third time in four games that Bledsoe three multiple INTs.
Chris Simms, QB, Tam: He's been efficient under center the past several weeks, completing a high percentage of his passes and limiting his turnovers. However, in fantasy terms, Simms just hasn't gotten it done going on five weeks now. He's gone scoreless and thrown for fewer than 200 yards in four of his past five games.
Isaac Bruce, WR, STL: Bruce got on track after returning from injury with TDs in consecutive games (albeit against Houston and Arizona), but watched his productivity slip down the stretch. Bruce has gone scoreless in three straight games, averaging just over three catches and 38 yards in this period. Week 16 brings hope of brighter days with the 49ers on tap, as Bruce found the end zone (three catches for 61 yards) in Week 1 at San Francisco.
Brett Favre, QB, GB: Nobody expected the interceptions to stop, as Favre has always tried to force the issue and made a questionable throw or two. On Monday against Baltimore, he made several ill-fated tosses and watched his receivers come up with some suspect efforts on several others. Though it was certainly a tough catch, Robert Ferguson failed to haul in one that hit him on the hands in the end zone. Donald Driver was seen turning away from a ball in the end zone and making no attempt on it. Had Ferguson hung on, you've got a different ballgame, and Favre's scoreless streak ends at two games. Instead, he went without a TD strike for the third straight game, and the national audience (what was left of it) witnessed the first extended play by Aaron Rodgers.
WATER COOLER RULER
Prior to the ridiculous 48-3 thumping of the Packers on Monday night, the Ravens had scored 20 points in just one contest this year (a 42-29 loss to Cincinnati). In Week 14, rookie Mark Clayton turned in the team's first 100-yard receiving game of the year against Denver. This past week, Kyle Boller connected frequently with Todd Heap to get him over the mark (nine catches for 110 yards), and teammate Derrick Mason finished just three yards shy (five catches for 97 yards).