NFL Skinny: Ride 'em, Cowboys

Brandon Funston
Yahoo! SportsNovember 11, 2008

Also See: Sunday Scene | Monday Brunch | Week 10 leaders

Fantasy playoffs are just a couple weeks away. The trading deadline for many leagues is just days away. Owners have little time left to get their rosters as finely-tuned as possible for the postseason. On that front, owners will hold their collective breaths that injuries won't send them skidding off the track. Thankfully, Week 10 left little in the way of carnage. And Week 11 is looking like it'll offer a nice infusion of returning talent, especially in Dallas. Let's take a look at who is expected to be back in the fold this coming weekend:

1. Tony Romo: Romo will return this Sunday with a splint on the broken pinky on his throwing hand. According to head coach Wade Phillips, Romo's getting close to throwing with the kind of zip he had before the injury. But the prospects of facing a stingy Washington pass defense with a splint on his throwing hand doesn't help foster a lot of optimism. Romo does have a strong history against the Redskins, though. I'm guessing I won't have Romo ranked outside the top 12 at quarterback in our weekly rankings later this week.

2. Reggie Bush: Bush hopes to return on Sunday from knee surgery on his MCL. Head coach Sean Payton said he'd have a much better picture of Bush's Week 11 prospects after practice on Wednesday. New Orleans has a date with Kansas City (5.5 ypc allowed to RBs) on Sunday, so a Bush return would be sweet news for his fantasy owners.

3. Jason Witten: Dealing with a broken rib, Witten failed to catch a ball in Week 9. He didn't practice during the bye week, and there's a good chance he'll be listed as questionable for a Week 11 matchup with Washington, but count on Ram-Man suiting up. He went for 90 yards and a TD on seven catches against the Redskins in Week 4.

4. Kyle Orton: Orton almost played an official backup role to Rex Grossman in Week 10, but decided in pre-game warmups to go the inactive route. His return against Green Bay this week, however, looks likely to happen. He was playing exceptionally well before spraining his ankle against Detroit in Week 9. If his fantasy owners can afford to let Orton ride their pine this week against Green Bay, that would probably be the smart move. The Packers have defended opposing quarterbacks very well and, in the past six games, only Peyton Manning has topped 200 passing yards (229) against them.

5. Felix Jones: Jones has missed the past three games because of a hamstring injury. The initial hope was that he'd be able to return after the Week 10 bye, but he didn't practice on Monday. Last week, Wade Phillips said that he thought Jones would be able to return by this Sunday. If he does return, his fantasy owners should try to avoid him against Washington and instead look to re-employ him the following week against San Francisco.

6. Matt Hasselbeck: Plagued by a bad back for much of the season, and causing him to sit out the past five games, Hasselbeck is expected back in practice on Wednesday and Mike Holmgrem is "cautiously optimistic" that he'll be able to start against Arizona in Week 11. Receiver Deion Branch is also expected back in the fold, which would finally give Seattle a reasonably healthy receiving arsenal.

Week 10: Take 10
A look at 10 notable developments/situations from Week 10

1. I made it a point to give Tyler Thigpen a long look-see on Sunday, and what I saw was a quarterback that showed a lot of confidence. Most of his passes were thrown with a lot of zip, and he showed a real fearlessness in trying to put the ball in tight places. The way he was firing away on his healthy 41 pass attempts, I was surprised he didn't throw an interception, especially considering that accuracy has been his biggest past weakness. Thigpen, however, hasn't thrown an interception in his past 145 attempts, connecting for seven TD passes in that span. In the past three weeks, only Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb have scored more fantasy points at the QB position. Thigpen could very well continue to be one of the major pleasant fantasy surprises down the stretch as his schedule is one of the more favorable for fantasy quarterbacks the rest of the way.

2. Joseph Addai's anticipated poor showing in Week 10 at Pittsburgh (12 carries for 34 yards) means that the consensus No. 5 pick in preseason drafts has now gone 16 games in a row without eclipsing 78 rushing yards. But there's hope that he can soon end this streak. After starting the season reasonably strong with four touchdowns in his first four games, Addai tweaked his hamstring in Week 6 against Baltimore and was forced to sit out the following two games. He returned with tough matchups with New England and Pittsburgh the past two weeks. Now the schedule enters cakewalk territory for the first time with nary a daunting run defense to face over the next six weeks. If Addai can stay healthy, he should bear fruit for fantasy owners down the stretch.

3. Oakland corner Nnamdi Asomugha is truly a fantasy owners' worst nightmare. Well, more specifically, he was Steve Smith owner's worst nightmare on Sunday (1 catch for 9 yards). And the previous week, he was Roddy White owner's worst nightmare (5 catches for 54 yards). And before that, he was Derrick Mason owner's worst nightmare (1 catch for 3 yards) … and so on … and so on. Do you sit Brandon Marshall against Asomugha in a couple weeks? Or Dwayne Bowe when he faces Oakland in Week 13? Or Randy Moss in Week 15? How about Andre Johnson in Week 16? That decision could directly determine whether you win a fantasy championship or not. It'd be understandably hard to put those guys on the pine, and at least they'll all bring a size advantage to the table. But White's performance (5-for-54) is probably what you should expect for the ceiling, and you'll just have to hope that one of the catches comes in painted grass.

4. On Sunday, Ricky Williams topped 100 rushing yards for the first time since Week 17 of '05. His 51-yard touchdown run against the Seahawks was his longest ground gain since Week 14 of '02. His breakout performance on Sunday was easily the best fantasy day of his '08 season, but some decent receiving yardage numbers and a couple other touchdown runs have helped Williams land among the top 25 fantasy running backs over the past five weeks. Head coach Tony Sparano talked a few weeks ago about getting Williams more involved, and he's averaged 10 touches per week in the three games since Sparano's endorsement. From my naked eye, Williams sure looked like a much more explosive back than the one I saw earlier in the season. His long TD run was a good example, as he was able to maintain his distance from close-on-his-tail cornerback Marcus Trufant. If Williams' performance keeps him in the 10-12 carry per week range going forward, as I suspect it will, the once-maligned back could have a surprising impact in fantasy leagues down the stretch given whipped-cream soft dates with Oakland (Week 11), Saint Louis (W13), San Francisco (W15) and Kansas City (W16).

5. Mike Holmgren fed Julius Jones a featured workload on Sunday (16 carries for 88 yards) for the first time since Week 5 when he carried 17 times. The positive effort by Jones against a staunch Miami run defense is likely to earn him another featured opportunity in Week 11. And he deserves it. He's been a high-effort, physical runner all season, and when given the opportunity, he's kept even the stiffest of defenses honest. If you have to role the dice on J.J. next week against Arizona, things should work out alright.

6. Bo Scaife has entered must-start territory. The former Longhorn caught 10 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown on Sunday at Chicago. He is the quintessential safety valve, as he's caught more than 76 percent of the passes thrown his was (43 for 55), including 10 of 11 on Sunday. Scaife is averaging just 10 yards per reception, which ranks near the bottom among qualified leaders at the position, but he makes up for it with a heavy workload – he's the fourth-most targeted tight end over the past five weeks. Scaife is on pace for 750 receiving yards and roughly four touchdowns, numbers that would have landed him just outside the top six at the position a year ago. He has one of the more TE-friendly schedules the rest of the way, which should allow him to at least reach his current projected pace, if not more.

7. Speaking of emerging tight ends, New Orleans' Billy Miller topped 50 receiving yards for the fifth consecutive game on Sunday (5-for-65). In that span, he's averaged nearly five catches and more than 63 yards per game. Team blowhard Jeremy Shockey further alienated himself from quarterback Drew Brees by arguing with Brees on the sideline during the 34-20 loss to the Falcons. Then Shockey once again added injury to insult by spraining an ankle late in the contest, allowing Miller to step up – all of Miller's 65 yards on Sunday came in the fourth quarter. Shockey's heated exchange with Brees came after the tight end failed to pick up his assignment against Atlanta's pass rush, then missed the dump-off pass from Brees as the New Orleans quarterback tried to avoid the heat by quickly getting rid of the ball. An ankle injury gives the Saints a great reason to sit the malcontented Shockey in Week 11. That would afford Miller a good shot at a sixth straight game with 50-plus receiving yards. Stay tuned.

8. I've said this before, but you have to give Philly head coach Andy Reid a ton of credit for doing whatever he can to get the ball in the hands of his most dangerous weapons as often, and in as many ways, as he can. Reid has long been creative in the different ways in which he's fed Brian Westbrook the ball. And he was quick to understand the value of rookie DeSean Jackson's game-changing speed. Reid used Jackson on reverse plays three times on Sunday, resulting in 24 rushing yards and a touchdown. In total, Jackson has rushed the ball10 times this season – his 77 rushing yards is second to only Brad Smith among WRs – and Jackson's 27 punt returns are the second-most in the league. Jackson has also been targeted 72 times, which ranks 15th among WRs.

9. I mentioned last week in this forum that I expected Kevin Smith to overtake Rudi Johnson on the depth chart by Week 15. It didn't take nearly that long, as Smith took the featured role against Jacksonville on Sunday and turned 23 carries into 96 yards and a rushing TD, as well as hauling in a 27-yard catch. It was a nice effort from a rookie who came into the game ranked among the top 25 fantasy backs despite fewer than 100 touches – Arizona's Tim Hightower was the only other back in the top 25 despite fewer than 100 touches. Unfortunately for Smith, his schedule for the coming month may be the most brutal of all backs. The next four teams he'll face (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota) have allowed just three 100-yard rushers and 17 rushing TDs in a combined 36 games.

10. Week 10 might have been the worst week of the season for the vaunted rookie running back class. Chris Johnson's 14-carry, eight-yard performance at Chicago particularly hurt, as I started him over Maurice Jones-Drew in one league. I also had a fair amount riding on Ray Rice and scoffed at Chris Liss' notion on the Fantasy Football Live Show on Sunday that Willis McGahee would handle about 55 percent of the workload. Instead, McGahee handled nearly 70 percent of the backfield workload (25, 112, 2 TDs) while Rice produced just 17 rushing yards on a mere seven carries. In the same game, Steve Slaton endured easily his worst game of the year, turning four carries into seven rushing yards. Of course, you can always count on Matt Forte. He picked up 126 yards from scrimmage and a TD against a tough Tennessee defense. He's now produced at least 11 fantasy points (default settings) in every game save one. And the one sub-11 effort wasn't all that bad – 85 yards from scrimmage against Philly in Week 4.

Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 11

Waiver Wire

QB Tyler Thigpen, KC (26% owned in Plus leagues) As mentioned above, Thigpen has showed surprising poise and moxie the past three weeks. He also has a nice set of wheels – his 4.7 40 speed has produced 20-plus rushing yards in four straight games. With a kind schedule remaining, Thigpen is begging to be rostered.
QB Matt Hasselbeck, Sea (26% owned) Hasselbeck has a good chance to return from a back injury in Week 11. In terms of fantasy, it would be great timing as Seattle will host Arizona this coming Sunday. In his past four meetings with the Cardinals, Hasselbeck has averaged 254 passing yards and has thrown nine touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Arizona has a bull's-eye on its secondary this season, in particular – third-most fantasy points allowed to QBs heading into Monday night. Still, you have to expect some rust from Hasselbeck and his inclusion here is only as someone that might be worth adding as backup insurance.
RB Peyton Hillis, Den (17% owned) With Broncos running backs dropping like flies, fullback Hillis is likely to make the leap to staring tailback in Week 11. Hillis is one of those H-back types in the Brian Leonard mold. He was highly recruited as a tailback out of high school, but the arrivals of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in Arkansas necessitated moving Hillis to fullback, a move that paved his way to the NFL. Denver is expected to sign a running back this week, but that player is unlikely to be ready to go come Sunday, so Hillis should shoulder a lion's share of the load against an Atlanta defense allowing 4.6 yards per carry to opposing running backs. If Hillis impresses, it's conceivable that he'll remain heavily in the mix the rest of the way. Last week I wrote about who could emerge as this season's Ryan Grant and Earnest Graham. Add Hillis' name to the list.
WR Michael Jenkins, Atl (47% owned) Matt Ryan's emergence and the threat of Roddy White have helped open things up for Jenkins. The former first rounder from Ohio St. caught six passes for 72 yards on Sunday, a week after catching two touchdown passes, both from 27-plus yards out. Jenkins has put together a run of four straight games with at least 50-plus yards. And his 16.5 yards per catch ranks 11th among wideouts.
WR Mark Clayton, Bal (15% owned) Clayton followed up his 87-yard, TD performance in Week 9 with a modest three catches for 40 yards on Sunday. But both efforts rank as his best receiving games of the year, and Derrick Mason, who dislocated his shoulder in Week 10, may be forced to the sideline this Sunday, which would land Clayton in a go-to role against the New York Giants.
WR Mark Bradley, KC (12% owned) Bradley has jumped on the Thigpen gravy train, landing at No. 9 among WRs in fantasy points over the past three weeks – 18 catches, 188 receiving yards, 2 TDs. He saw his most significant workload of the season on Sunday, catching nine of the 14 passes intended for him, resulting in 81 yards and a score. Bradley has proven to be a magnet for injuries in his short career, but he's a former high second-round pick (read: he's got talent) who is healthy now and hitting on all cylinders.
TE Marcedes Lewis, Jac (38% owned) Lewis is averaging 45 receiving yards and has scored twice in his past five games. With the likelihood that Jacksonville will struggle to mount a serious threat on the ground the next two weeks facing Tennessee and Minnesota, respectively, Lewis should continue to be a prominent target for quarterback David Garrard.
TE Kevin Boss, NYG (55% owned) Boss scored a touchdown in his third straight game on Sunday, and he ranks behind only Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark in terms of fantasy points at the tight end position during that span.


RB Jamaal Charles, KC (ankle) On Sunday, Charles re-aggravated the ankle he'd previously sprained in late October. Larry Johnson is expected back in Week 11 so, if Charles is able to go, it'll likely only be in passing situations or to give LJ a breather.
WR Derrick Mason, Bal (shoulder) Mason dislocated his shoulder on Sunday and he's expected to be questionable for Week 11.
TE Jeremy Shockey, NO (ankle) Shockey continues to prove he's as durable as a wet paper towel, tweaking his ankle on Sunday. Steer clear of him in Week 11, even if he does play.