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NFL Skinny: White Christmas

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Running Back Radar
DENVER BRONCOS RED HOT
1st Chair: Selvin Young
2nd Chair: Andre Hall, Cecil Sapp, Travis Henry,
Skinny: Mentally and physically beaten down, Henry handled just 10 carries on Sunday, rushing for 24 yards and a TD. Young assumed the lion's share of backfield touches, carrying 17 times for 156 yards in the Broncos' 41-7 trouncing of Kansas City. Young's performance and coach Mike Shanahan's admission on Monday that Henry is currently going through a rough time points towards Young occupying first chair in the backfield mix in a Week 15 contest at Houston on Thursday. Of course, that comes with the usual disclaimer that nothing is certain when it comes to Denver running backs.
HOUSTON TEXANS HOT
1st Chair: Darius Walker, Adimchinobe Echemandu
Injured: Ron Dayne
Skinny: Dayne emerged from Week 14 with a very sore ankle and, because the team plays an early-week game (Thursday versus Denver) in Week 15, it's highly likely that Big Daddy will be inactive for the contest. If Dayne doesn't go, head coach Gary Kubiak has said that a combination of Walker and Echemandu will handle the backfield duties. The Broncos yield 4.5 yards per carry (third-worst in the NFL), so it's an advantageous matchup for Texan RBs. But, given the split-carry scenario, fantasy owners doing battle in the playoffs shouldn't look to pin their hopes on Walker or Echemandu.
CHICAGO BEARS HOT
1st Chair: Adrian Peterson
2nd Chair: Garrett Wolfe
Skinny: In Week 14, Peterson put together another lackluster performance in place of the injured Cedric Benson. Against Washington on Thursday, Peterson managed just 35 yards on 17 carries. Wolfe pushed Peterson to the sidelines late and picked up 13 yards on three carries with an additional 37 yards on four catches. In his past five games, AP is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. Many, including myself, were calling for Peterson to supplant an unproductive Benson before Benson got hurt. But Peterson has done nothing to validate his lobbyists. Don't be surprised if Wolfe sees a much more significant role going forward. However, it's a moot point for Week 15 as Chicago faces the staunch Minnesota run defense.
BUFFALO BILLS HOT
1st Chair: Marshawn Lynch
2nd Chair: Fred Jackson
Skinny: Lynch returned from an ankle injury in Week 14 and rushed 23 times for 107 yards. However, the rookie Jackson remained a central figure in the Bills' rushing attack, taking 15 carries for 115 yards in the same contest, a 38-17 victory over Miami. Lynch is still the lead back here, but head coach Dick Jauron said that he won't be afraid to ride the hot hand down the stretch, meaning that Jackson will still likely have some fantasy relevance. Jauron loved how the production played out in the backfield in Week 14 and he hopes to emulate that formula going forward. With a Cleveland defense allowing 4.6 yards per carry next up in Week 15, it's not far-fetched to see a similar split of the workload once again this coming week.
ATLANTA FALCONS HOT
1st Chair: Warrick Dunn
2nd Chair: Jerious Norwood
Skinny: With Atlanta playing from behind early on Monday night, Dunn and Norwood combined for just 12 carries (6 each). But it did appear that head coach Bobby Petrino was trying to find ways to get Norwood more involved than usual, even lining him up as a receiver. Norwood picked up two catches for 57 yards, once again teasing fantasy owners with his breakaway potential with a 46-yard reception. It's likely that, had the score been closer, Norwood would have topped 10 carries for the first time this season. I suspect he'll finally breach that mark in Week 15 at Tampa Bay. That said, any Falcon, save WR Roddy White, remains a fantasy gamble.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS WARM
1st Chair: Aaron Stecker
2nd Chair: Pierre Thomas
Skinny: Reggie Bush's season appears over because of a knee injury, and Stecker handled a major workload in his absence on Monday night. Thomas picked up some garbage-time work, but Stecker clearly established himself as the new lead dog in the New Orleans backfield with his 20-carry, 100-yard effort against Atlanta.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS WARM
1st Chair: Shaun Alexander
2nd Chair: Maurice Morris
Skinny: Alexander toted the rock 15 more times than Morris in Week 13, but this past Sunday the load was much more equitable, and favored Morris – Morris ran 13 times for 36 yards; Alexander rushed 10 times for 38 yards. It was another mediocre performance from a Seattle running game that has struggled all season. The Seahawks have flipped seamlessly to a pass-dominated attack and fantasy owners would be wise to put Alexander and/or Morris out of there thoughts the rest of the way.
Also See: Sunday Scene | Injury Rundown | Pickups of the Week

Now that it's playoff time nearly across the board in all fantasy leagues, it's full disclosure time. Not everyone is interested in how my teams are doing, but I know there are some out there that want to know how that "Big Board" guy is faring. So, here's a quick breakdown: Another week, another wrong decision to start Carson Palmer over Ben Roethlisberger in my "buddies" league. I also made an 11th-hour switch from Marques Colston to Laveranues Coles at receiver with fears that Colston would come up small matched against DeAngelo Hall. Despite my mismanagement, I managed to pull out the victory needed to secure a playoff spot.

At this point, of my 11 leagues (seven on Yahoo!), I'm in the postseason dance in seven of them. At 8-5-1, I just missed a playoff spot in the Yahoo! Auction Invitational League, losing a tiebreaker to another 8-5-1 team. And I wasn't even close in two other Yahoo! leagues, going 4-9 in both, including the Y! Sports Blog Funston League, which I won last year – I finished in last place this time. So, that's where I'm at – playoffs in seven out of 11 leagues, with a just-miss on an eighth league. It's not perfect but, given the "Any given Sunday" unpredictability of the NFL, I can sleep at night with how things have turned out. Now, let's take a look at how things turned out on the field in Week 14:

The Good: Roddy White. I was up in my "buddies" league by 27 points heading into Monday night, with only my opponents' White yet to play. Against the Saints, I hadn't ruled out the possibility of White making up the 27-point difference, especially since the league awards .75 points per reception. White picked up more than half the points needed by halftime, with two catches for 72 yards and a score. With my blood pressure shooting skyward, White could muster only one catch for three yards after halftime, cementing my path to the fantasy playoffs. But White did enough in the contest to clock in as the top fantasy receiver over the past three weeks (combined 325 yards and a TD in three straight). With five touchdowns and 995 receiving yards despite a carousel of mediocrity at quarterback (Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman), it's time to recognize White as one of the elite talents at wide receiver in the league. And with a Week 16 date against an Arizona defense that has allowed 42 percent more fantasy points to receivers than the league average over the past five weeks, White could be a key figure for owners come fantasy Super Bowl week.

The Bad: Brandon Funston. That's right, I have to start with the man in the mirror here this week. In last week's Skinny, I made the unfortunate mistake of crediting Gus Frerotte with shredding the Cleveland pass defense when he actually faced a much-more-respectable Atlanta pass defense. The gaffe brought a flood of emails from enraged readers who, before wishing that I received Vegas-style hammer to the fingers punishment, showered me with profanity-laced attacks on my intelligence. So, for that, my sincerest apologies. But my message that Chris Redman and Kellen Clemens were solid plug-n-plays in Week 14 because they faced New Orleans and Cleveland was right on target. Clemens scored 15 points in Yahoo! default scoring leagues (13th-best at QB for the week) while Redman banked 18 points (9th-best). Kurt Warner (at New Orleans) and Trent Edwards (at Cleveland) are next up in Week 15 – Edwards torched Miami for four touchdown passes in Week 14.

The Ugly: Carson Palmer. He's been the bane of my '07 fantasy football existence. He's incredibly talented and has two of the best receivers in the league at his disposal, but Palmer failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second consecutive game on Sunday – he's thrown 1 TD pass or less in seven games this season. With remaining games against San Francisco, Cleveland and Miami, Palmer has one of the easiest fantasy schedules among quarterbacks. But given his current dry spell – again, he couldn't find the end zone or top 200 passing yards (189) against a very mediocre St. Louis secondary – his owners have to have serious doubts about whether Palmer can take advantage of the plum opportunities that lie ahead.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Rudi Johnson, Cin, RB – Welcome back, Rudi. The Bengals' veteran has scored in three straight games, including a 92-yard, TD effort on Sunday.

Ryan Grant, GB, RB – Yes, it was expected that he'd trample an awful Oakland run defense on Sunday, and he did (156 rushing yards and a TD). But, it should again be noted that Grant has been running against all comers and is currently the No. 4 fantasy back, behind only LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Chester Taylor, over his past five games.

Earnest Graham, TB, RB – Graham scored for the fifth-straight game (he had two touchdowns) on Sunday and topped 100 yards from scrimmage (106) for the fifth time in his past seven contests. With the mediocre run defenses of Atlanta and San Francisco coming up the next two weeks, you really can't afford to sit Graham.

Marion Barber, Dal, RB – The goal-line gopher scored three times on Sunday, and he now has 27 TDs in his past 28 regular season games despite splitting carries with Julius Jones. Over the past three weeks, Barber is the No. 7 fantasy back.

Shaun McDonald, Det, WR – McDonald's star shone brightest in the Lions' first game sans Roy Williams. McDonald finished a loss to Dallas with eight catches for 96 yards. He's scored just one touchdown in his past six games, but he's averaged a very respectable 72 receiving yards per game in that span. If he maintains that pace in his final three games, he'll top 1,000 yards for the season.

Bobby Engram, Sea, WR – Engram scored for the second consecutive game on Sunday and now sits 71 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season.

Arnaz Battle, SF, WR – Despite snagging just seven passes combined over his past three games, Battle has turned three of them into touchdowns (one in each game). Over his past five games, he's the No. 16 fantasy wideout.

Fred Taylor, Jac, RB – Taylor's been a one-man wrecking crew in his past three games, averaging 7.4 yards per carry in that span. Sunday was his third-consecutive 100-yard performance (132) and the second game in his past three in which he's found pay dirt.

Reggie Williams, Jac, WR – Another touchdown for Williams on Sunday gives the Jags' receiver seven touchdowns for the year. With just 31 receptions, Williams is averaging a touchdown every 4.4 catches.

Jabar Gaffney, NE, WR – Gafney is starting to get a healthier slice of the ample New England offensive pie. He's scored a touchdown in three straight games and his 122 yards on Sunday follows an 87-yard effort in Week 12.

Jon Kitna, Det, QB – Kitna failed to throw a touchdown pass on Sunday, the fourth time he's been held out of the end zone this season. Seven times in his past nine games he's finished with 1 TD pass or less.

Donte' Stallworth, NE, WR – After scoring in three straight games from Weeks 5-7, Stallworth hasn't found the end zone since, nor has he been able to reach the 70-yard mark in that span (six games) – On Sunday, he had one catch for nine yards.

DeShaun Foster, Car, RB – Foster lost a fumble for the fifth time this season on Sunday. He also finished with 64 rushing yards or less for the ninth time in his past 10 games.

Heath Miller, Pit, TE – Miller was hanging in the neighborhood of the elite tight ends through his first nine games (6 TDs). But, in his past four games, he has failed to find the end zone and has finished below 40 yards in each of those contests.

EARLY BIG BOARD RETURNS
• Players in consideration for falling off the Board: Steve Smith, Ron Dayne (ankle), Reggie Bush (knee), Santonio Holmes
• Players in consideration to make the Board: Selvin Young, Rudi Johnson, LenDale White, Fred Taylor, Tony Gonzalez
• Expected top Board climbers: Jamal Lewis, Earnest Graham
• Expected top Board fallers: Carson Palmer, Maurice Jones-Drew

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League type:
Free Yahoo League
League size:
10 players
Draft time:
Sep 5 9:00 am