Honestly, this season cannot end quickly enough. Here we are in the make-or-break weeks and an already hard-to-figure fantasy season gets turned on its head. How absurd have things gotten? Let's start with this: If you own Peyton, you owned the wrong Manning in Week 15. Brother Eli and no fewer than 14 quarterbacks outscored this year's fantasy MVP if Yahoo! default scoring is applied. Four of this week's top six running backs were taken in the fifth round or later in the average Yahoo! draft. Week 15's top back, Larry Johnson, probably wasn't drafted in your league and was being fitted for adult diapers as recently as Week 8.
If you're looking for sanity at the wide receiver position, forget it. Santana, not Randy, was the Moss you wanted growing on your roster this week. Joey Galloway scored 12 fantasy points without earning a single point for yardage. Oh, and Antwaan Randle El threw a touchdown pass one week after Jerome Bettis did the same for Pittsburgh. Who's next, Jeff Reed? Would anyone mind if Big Ben threw for a touchdown? If I sound like a bitter fantasy owner, you have the wrong idea. The Skinny was 3-for-3 on playoff matchups this week. It's just hard to write a weekly column when an honest assessment of Week 16 would read: I have no idea what is going to happen. My best effort at making sense of it all follows:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- The ankle injury suffered by Terrell Owens Sunday left a lot of fantasy owners with the Steve Mariucci face. You saw the face when cameras cut to Detroit's coach after Don Muhlbach delivered the most celebrated botched snap since Trey Junkin centered the Giants out of the playoffs in 2003. It's the same look you'd get from a holiday shopper moments after the last iPod on the shelf escaped their grasp. Did that just happen? If I close my eyes will this all go away? Is there any bourbon in this egg nog? If you're a TO owner, you'd better hope the answer to that last one is yes. Coach Andy Reid pretty much ruled Owens out for next Monday's game and with home-field advantage locked up, the Eagles have little reason to have him test the wheel in Week 17.
The sprain was felt by Donovan McNabb owners too. The Philly offense without TO is like a Chris Rock show edited for television – it's just not the same. Owens has been held without a touchdown five times this season and in those games McNabb has just three touchdowns against five interceptions. Todd Pinkston becomes his No. 1 target. Depending on whom you believe, Pinkston is either afraid of contact or prone to losing balls in the lights. Either way, he's not a significant upgrade in the wake of this injury. Tight ends L.J. Smith and Chad Lewis become McNabb's top red zone targets. Some names to scan the waiver wire for if you don't have a suitable bench replacement for Owens: Brandon Lloyd, Koren Robinson (back from suspension), Justin McCareins, Reggie Williams, Joey Galloway.
- When Tatum Bell told reporters he planed to play in Week 15 after separating his shoulder against Miami, he sounded a lot like an oft-injured rookie trying his best to shed the brittle tag before it stuck. Turns out he was serious. Not only did he suit up Sunday, he replaced starter Reuben Droughns after one series for the second straight week. He outplayed him again, too. This must be heartbreak for Droughns owners. Three weeks ago he was rushing for 100 yards for the sixth time in seven weeks. Though you never want to get ahead of yourself, it was hard not to look forward to a Week 16 matchup against Tennessee, a team that allowed four 100-yard games and seven rushing touchdowns in Weeks 11 through 14. Now it looks like it will be Bell who will take advantage of the Titans' season of giving.
Has Droughns paid too steep a price for fumbling three times in the last four weeks? Probably not. Remember, when camp broke we expected Bell to return to health and assume the starting job by Week 8. Droughns had a nice run, but Sunday marked his fourth straight game under 4.0 yards per carry. Bell is the more explosive option right now. He averaged 5.6 yards on nine carries Sunday and caught one pass for 58 yards. Here's the problem: he fumbled the ball out of the end zone on that play and was replaced by Garrison Hearst, who scored Denver's final touchdown. Where do things go from here? We'll have to watch Mike Shanahan's comments closely this week, but the Denver Post reported Monday that Bell would start Saturday if healthy.
- Billy Volek and Drew Bennett continued their magic Sunday. We haven't seen chemistry this powerful since Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson met in "Lost in Translation." The numbers for the past three weeks are absurd: 28 receptions for 517 yards and eight touchdowns for Bennett and 1187 yards and 11 touchdowns for Volek. Despite seeing significant action in only seven games, Volek has more touchdowns (17) than roughly half the league's starters. Only 10 receivers in the league have more touchdowns on the season than Bennett has in the past three weeks. Oh, and Billy Volek is 1-6 as a starter.
As of kickoff Sunday, Volek remained available in roughly one-forth of Yahoo! leagues. What can these guys do to top themselves? The answer is nothing – it can't possibly get any better than this. By no means is the party over, however. Week 16 opponent Denver has struggled against the pass of late. Kansas City burned the Broncos for three touchdowns through the air Sunday, three weeks after Kerry Collins beat them four times at home. Champ Bailey is a shutdown corner, but who do you focus on? While Bennett has exploded of late, Derrick Mason has quietly retained the league lead in receptions with 88. A big day should be expected from all Tennessee skill players, including Chris Brown if his lingering turf toe improves by game time.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Josh McCown, QB, ARI
When his receivers are healthy, his schedule eases up and his coach quits trying to out-think himself, Arizona quarterback Josh McCown is capable of some decent production. Sunday he accounted for 330 total yards and four touchdowns in a decisive win against St. Louis. Next week he gets a chance to further muddy the NFC West playoff picture at Seattle. Nobody is expecting another pair of rushing touchdowns, but the Seahawks allowed three passing touchdowns Sunday and they completely collapsed the last time they tried to defend their home turf. Expect 240 yards and 1-2 touchdowns from Luke in Week 16.
- Shaud Williams, RB, BUF
Until the extent of Willis McGahee's injury is known, fantasy owners have no choice but to secure Williams as an insurance pickup. He was effective in mop-up duty against Cleveland in Week 14, averaging 4.2 yards on 10 carries with a meaningless touchdown. The yards were harder to come by Sunday. Cincinnati was stacked against the run in the fourth quarter as Williams carried the ball 11 times with the game out of reach. Someone will come up big next week at San Francisco. The Niners are allowing 30 points per game for the past seven weeks and only Cleveland has yielded more rushing touchdowns to opposing backs.
- Reggie Williams, WR, JAX
Early on this season it was Ernest Wilford making headlines as a rookie wide receiver for Jacksonville. Williams didn't really make a splash until Week 13 when he caught his first career touchdown pass, but his play has steadily improved all season and he now sits at No. 2 on the Jags' depth chart at wideout. He was quiet Sunday (1 rec./11 yds.), but conditions in Green Bay were brutal and Byron Leftwich would complete only nine passes. Week 16 opponent Houston has allowed 11 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in seven home games. Jimmy Smith is the safe play Sunday, but Williams could pay dividends as a reach play in deeper leagues.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Dorsey Levens, RB, PHI – Levens will see more touches in the season's final two weeks now that the Eagles have locked up home field advantage. He rushed for 43 yards Sunday and scored a touchdown for the second straight week.
Kelley Washington, WR, CIN – Washington came within four yards of scoring his fourth touchdown in five games Sunday. He caught two passes in the red zone and led the Bengals with four receptions for 60 yards.
Drew Bledsoe, QB, BUF – With Willis McGahee's status in doubt, go ahead and upgrade Bledsoe (183 yards, TD Sunday), Lee Evans (101 yards, TD) and Eric Moulds (5 rec., 47 yards) for Buffalo's Week 16 tilt at San Francisco. Since Week 8, the Niners are allowing an average of 245 yards and 1.7 touchdowns through the air.
Lee Suggs, RB, CLE – What's this – a bright spot on the Cleveland offense? Seeing his first action since Week 11, Suggs rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries Sunday. William Green started but didn't see the ball after the three-minute mark of the first half. Suggs should start the season's final two weeks.
Teyo Johnson, TE, OAK – Johnson scored his second touchdown in five games Sunday while recording season highs in receptions (3) and yards (39). The injury to Ronald Curry should increase his profile as the season continues. He's been taking reps at wide receiver in practice.
Warrick Dunn, RB, ATL – Too small to shoulder the load? Guess again. Dunn reached 28 carries for the first time since 2002 Saturday and rewarded fantasy owners with 134 yards and a score. Those numbers should serve as minimums against a generous New Orleans run defense in Week 16.
Patrick Ramsey, QB, WAS – Since Week 12, Ramsey has completed 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception while averaging 213 yards. Washington finishes with Dallas and Minnesota, teams that allow more than 200 yards and close to two touchdowns through the air each week.
Roy Williams, WR, DET – Williams was targeted 12 times Sunday and the rookie responded with seven receptions for 104 yards and two scores, his best game since Week 3. Week 16 opponent Chicago allowed a league-high nine touchdown receptions to WR's between Weeks 10 and 14.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, SF – Quarterback Ken Dorsey still likes Cedrick Wilson (targeted seven times Saturday), but he also threw 11 passes Lloyd's way against Washington. He now has touchdowns in consecutive weeks and six scores in San Francisco's last 10 games.
Samie Parker, WR, KC – Seeing his first significant action of the season, Parker was targeted six times Sunday. The rookie caught three passes for 84 yards and his first career touchdown. Rookie Triandos Luke (5 rec./40 yds.) shined in the same game for Denver.
Maurice Hicks, RB, SF – Gaining yards wasn't the only thing Hicks struggled with Saturday. He was held to 37 yards rushing, but it was his failure to pick up the blitz that forced him to the bench in the second half. He had only two carries after halftime.
Marshall Faulk, RB, STL – Since rushing for 139 yards in Week 10, Faulk has 35 yards on 30 carries. Worse, he was thrown to only twice out of the backfield Sunday. Week 16 opponent Philadelphia has been very tough against running backs, allowing only four touchdowns since Week 7.
Brett Favre, QB, GB – Favre has thrown 10 interceptions in Green Bay's last seven games. He moves indoors next week where he has 40 interceptions in his last 29 games.
Jake Plummer, QB, DEN – Has anyone ever thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions in the same game? Plummer could make a run at the mark next week. He's thrown eight interceptions in the last three weeks and Tennessee has allowed a mind-boggling 11 passing touchdowns in the same span. So, can you bench him?
STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
49 Number of players who have recorded 100-yard rushing games during the 2004 season.