If you were unaffected by injury holdouts in Week 6 – Julius Jones, Carnell Williams, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, Hines Ward, Antonio Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, DeShaun Foster, etc. – consider yourself lucky. Health issues paved the way for new faces to enjoy their "15 minutes" of fantasy fame. Here's a look at the players and developments that caught my eye on Sunday:
Last week, Jerome Bettis returned from injury and handled 17 carries against San Diego. Meanwhile, early-season star Willie Parker carried just 10 times and, essentially, took a backseat to "The Bus." Parker owners must have assumed, and understandably so, that the honeymoon was over. But, on Sunday, Parker was back in the driver's seat, taking 21 carries (55 yards) to Bettis' four (four yards). And while neither was effective in the fantasy realm, owners of both must still be asking, "What gives?" More and more, it seems, NFL head coaches are keeping lineup changes and injury information as guarded as possible. With viable options in Parker and Bettis, head coach Bill Cowher might have been playing a chess game. It's likely that Jacksonville was preparing for a heavy dose of Bettis this week, only to get a healthy serving of the slashing Parker, instead. If that's true, this situation will be a big-time headache for Bettis and Parker owners going forward.
Submitting a starting lineup this week was, for many, a form of Russian roulette. With so many big-name players on the injury report, deciding who to play was a spin of the chamber. All week we read that Cedric Benson was going to start for Thomas Jones. Assuredly, many owners benched Jones and looked elsewhere. But there was Jones on Sunday rolling up 89 yards and a couple touchdowns on the hapless Minnesota Vikings … New England's Corey Dillon was called a "probable" play on early-week injury reports and was made active on Sunday. But he was no more than a figure head. Given Bill Belichick's head games with injury misinformation, the odds are that Dillon was likely no better than a "questionable" play all week, but Belichick played it close to the vest. Dillon stayed on the sidelines on Sunday while Patrick Pass got the call in the Patriots' backfield, no doubt sticking it to a plethora of owners who thought Dillon would be a safe start.
Mark Brunell added an exclamation point to his argument for belonging on a roster in fantasy leagues. And Santana Moss is proving that he'll make fantasy owners who leave him on the bench pay dearly for that decision. Brunell threw for 331 yards and three TDs, hitting Moss 10 times for two TDs and 173 yards. And this duo could have, perhaps, been even more dynamic on Sunday had Brunell not fumbled twice in the red zone after being sacked. Fantasy owners of these two probably aren't complaining, though. Watching this pair operate on Sunday was like watching Carolina's Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith. Like the Carolina combo, the bond between Brunell and Moss is air tight. Moss caught 10 passes, and he was a deep target on a few other deep passes.
Greg Jones has been logging time as Jacksonville's fullback, but he can play a mean tailback if he needs to. With Fred Taylor out, Jones carried 18 times for 77 yards and a TD against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Rookie Alvin Pearman was expected to assume a sizeable role with Taylor out. But Jones split time with Pearman, and after watching Jones bulldoze has way through the Steelers' defense in Week 6, you'd have to question the Jaguars logic if they didn't figure out a way to get this guy the ball. Taylor has played well in spots this season and, if healthy, he owns the featured role, but Jones is big, quick and can lay a hurt on any would-be tacklers. If Taylor missed time, Jones would be a very intriguing candidate for fantasy employment.
Is a more equitable division of carries in the future for Baltimore's Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor? The potential of that happening increased after Lewis handled 24 carries on Sunday for a mere 59 yards (2.5 yards per carry), while Taylor averaged 11.5 yards on his eight carries (92 yards). For the season, Taylor is picking up nearly three more yards per carry than Lewis. If the trend continues, something's got to give.
Perhaps a road game at Tampa Bay wasn't the best situation for judging how the Miami backfield situation is going to play out with Ricky Williams back in the fold. After all, the Bucs came into Sunday as the league's top rush defense. Williams managed just eight yards on five carries in his '05 debut. But Ronnie Brown could hardly claim victory after he rushed for just 21 yards on nine carries. Brown, did, however, score the team's only TD on an eight-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins host Kansas City in Week 7. That contest will better define this situation.
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said this week that Michael Clayton would be more involved in the offense. But he caught just two passes as Joey Galloway continues to see major looks from Brian Griese – and Chris Simms, who entered the game late after Griese left with a sprained knee. Galloway caught nine passes for 96 yards and a TD, and was thrown to 14 times. Clayton, meanwhile, saw just three passes in his direction. Clayton is anextremely talented receiver, but clearly his shoulder injury is wreaking havoc on his production.
Once again, I witnessed Atlanta's run defense get manhandled, this time by New Orleans and Deuce McAllister replacements Antowain Smith (12 carries, 88 yards, 2 TDs) and Aaron Stecker (16 carries, 86 yards). As the carry totals prove, the Saints' backfield is now a platoon, with Smith carrying a little more value in fantasy because of his use around the goal line. But let's get back to my point about Atlanta: This team is a gold mine of points for opposing running backs. And a bad situation was made worse this past week when run-stuffing linebacker Edgerton Hartwell was lost for the season. Curtis Martin will get his chance at this group next week. Martin owners rejoice!
Denver's backfield remains a full-blown platoon between Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. Sunday's game provided intrigue given how well Bell performed last week scoring twice against Washington and rushing for 127 yards on 12 carries. Many wondered if that performance would provide the boost that Bell needed to attain the role of featured back. But head coach Mike Shanahan split the carries evenly for the third consecutive week, with Bell taking 13 carries to Anderson's 15. Bell, once again, posted big yardage numbers (114 rushing yards), while Anderson managed a modest 3.8 yards per carry (57 yards). Bell is the higher upside fantasy choice here, however, as he offers more break-away potential and is not completely out of the picture at the goal line – Bell carried on a three-yard TD run while Anderson punched one in from two yards out. But Anderson got the call at crunch time with Denver trying to withstand a furious New England comeback attempt. The obvious conclusion is that Shanahan has more trust in Anderson's ability to hang on to the football. Until Bell restores that portion of trust with Shanahan, expect to see the platoon continue.
Rudi Johnson owners may not want to admit it, but Chris Perry is becoming a thorn in their sides. Perry caught nine passes for 45 yards and a TD. He also carried six times for 28 yards. The team is enamored with Perry's abilities and he'll continue to see his workload increase. Of course, Johnson is still the man here and will be until he gives the team reason to think differently. Johnson offered no reason on Sunday with 18 carries for 80 yards and a TD.
Is Marion Barber the new backup to Julius Jones? Anthony Thomas initially assumed that role as he started on Sunday with Jones out with a high ankle sprain. But Thomas could muster just 47 yards on 21 carries and gave way to Barber in the fourth quarter and overtime. Tyson Thompson carried just three times and he appears out of the mix for the time being, likely because he struggled to hold on to the ball last week. Barber, with 11 carries for 30 yards, was more successful than Thomas, and he is a solid receiving option (two catches for 21 yards on Sunday). He could figure heavily into the mix next week should Jones not be able to roll again.
Buffalo's Eric Moulds was the one that let the cat of the bag, revealing to the media that Kelly Holcomb was, indeed, taking over for J.P. Losman at quarterback last week. And now it is clear why Moulds was practically lobbying for the move. Moulds has found pay dirt in each of the past two weeks with Holcomb at the helm. Moulds also hauled in a season-high seven catches on Sunday.