It's Week 15, and that means fantasy playoffs all around. Fantasy owners anxiously await Tony Dungy's decision as to when the Colts starters and fantasy stalwarts Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison hit the sidelines. The Seahawks have racked up massive point totals in the past two weeks, and now figure to break out the passing attack against a low-ranked Tennessee defense.
We've seen Samkon Gado emerge as a weekly stud, leading teams that were in the middle of the pack to playoff glory. Kurt Warner looks to continue his fantasy resurgence against a bottom-ranked Houston pass defense, while Kerry Collins looks to make the most of a second chance.
Let's break down the storylines and activity that lead us into Week 15, starting with a quick trip to the fantasy infirmary.
Michael Vick sat out Wednesday's practice with bruised ribs sustained against New Orleans on Monday night. Vick dismissed all speculation that he would miss even a snap against the Bears, citing it as a must-win game for the Falcons. Though he will hit the field, Vick certainly isn't a lock to start for your fantasy squad this week against a Chicago defense that has allowed only eight passing TDs this year.
Kevin Jones continues to battle an elbow injury in addition to a strained quad. He's currently listed as doubtful for this week's game against Cincinnati. That leaves the carries for Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson. The duo combined for 41 yards on 16 carries in the 16-13 defeat to Green Bay in Week 14.
The thumb injury that sidelined Jamal Lewis for Week 14 against Denver is still causing him problems gripping the ball. He's listed as questionable for the Monday night game against Green Bay. Chester Taylor's star continues to rise in Baltimore, and he'll garner at least a split of the carries this week.
Tom Brady took a blow on his three-yard TD run in last week's win over Buffalo, and has been listed as questionable for Week 15 against Tampa Bay. He participated in the early part of Wednesday's practice and walked without a limp. As per Patriots team rules, Brady was tight-lipped about the injury and expressed hope of being on the field Saturday. The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Fantasy owners might want to look another direction this week, as the injury and the tough Bucs pass defense (178 yards per game, only nine TDs allowed) present challenges for him.
Domanick Davis has been positively dominant in the Texans' past four games, racking up nearly 600 yards of total offense. The knee that kept him out of two games earlier this year has flared up, forcing the Texans to place the questionable tag on him for Sunday against Arizona. He's a huge play this week if available, but it appears to be a game-time decision.
J.P. Losman missed his second straight practice with a shoulder injury, which forced Mike Mularkey to make a switch and re-insert Kelly Holcomb into the starting lineup. Denver allows 242 yards per game via the air and has surrendered 19 touchdowns this year. Look for Holcomb to hook up with a motivated Eric Moulds with great frequency this week.
After two huge games, DeShaun Foster was slowed by a shoulder injury in Week 14 against Tampa Bay. He returned to practice on Wednesday and reported no issues. The Panthers next face a New Orleans run defense that surrenders 136 yards per game and has ceded 14 rushing touchdowns.
Jerome Bettis re-injured his quadriceps in the 21-9 win over Chicago on Sunday, a game during which he topped 100 yards with two scores. Bettis is expected to be available to pound the ball on the road against Minnesota.
Tennessee RB Travis Henry hurt his ankle in Week 14 and is expected to miss this week's game against Seattle. That leaves Chris Brown unopposed in the Titans' backfield against Seattle. It's a tough matchup for the bruising back, as the Seahawks are humming on defense right now and allow only 101 yards per game. They've also only allowed three rushing TDs all season.
Kevan Barlow battled through a knee injury in Week 14, but he's listed as doubtful for this week's tilt against Jacksonville. Big-play threat Frank Gore would slide into the top spot if Barlow is, in fact, held out.
Mike McMahon returned to practice on Wednesday for the Eagles, meaning that he'll be back in the lineup on Sunday against the Rams' porous pass defense.
It's not an injury issue, but Aaron Brooks has been sent to the bench for the final three games. With a record of 3-10, inconsistent play from Brooks, and a huge hit on the cap if he were to stay in '06, the Saints want to see if Todd Bouman has the goods moving forward. (OK, they're still in the Matt Leinart hunt.)
David Garrard, QB, Jac: Garrard has recorded back-to-back games with multiple scores. He topped 200 passing yards for the first time in his career last week, and finds himself in a tremendous matchup this week against the sieve-like 49ers defense. Look for him to eclipse the 200-yard mark again, and turn in multiple TDs, be they by air or ground.
Ryan Moats, RB, Phi: Moats showed tremendous burst in his breakout performance against the Giants in Week 14, running to 114 yards and two scores on just 11 carries. He finds himself in a great spot this week on the fast track against a Rams defense that allows 137 yards and nearly one-and-a-half touchdowns per game on the ground.
Darrell Jackson, WR, Sea: The veteran Seahawks receiver is set to return to action this week after missing the past nine games following knee surgery. Jackson will be brought in lightly this week against Tennessee as Mike Holmgren works to get him ready for the playoffs. He's a serviceable plug-in for a third receiver position this week, but don't expect the world in the first game back.
Marion Barber, RB, Dal: Barber rose back onto fantasy owners' radars after a solid performance in Week 14 in which his workload eclipsed that of teammate Julius Jones. Barber carried the ball 15 times for 82 yards, and contributed 32 receiving yards in the Cowboys' win over Kansas City. He and Jones team this week in a rivalry match against the Redskins, whose defense allows 106 yards and just over one TD per game on the ground.
Cedric Houston, RB, NYJ: The Jets lost top rushing option Curtis Martin to knee surgery, and watched the rookie Houston shine in his absence. He gained 74 yards on 28 carries against the Raiders and scored his first NFL TD. He'll next face a Miami run defense that allows 117 yards per game. Fantasy owners looking at another week with Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, or another of the disappointing or injured backs are turning to Houston this week.
Kerry Collins, QB, Oak: Collins is rising from the ashes like the Phoenix after a one-week stay on the bench. Collins has been re-inserted as the Raiders starting QB this week against the Browns. Cleveland's pass defense ranks sixth in the NFL, having allowed 182 yards and roughly 1.25 touchdowns per game.
Mewelde Moore, RB, Min: Moore has been relegated to backup duty behind Michael Bennett as Mike Tice juggles his backfield. Mike Tice told a Minneapolis radio station of his love of the rookie Ciatrick Fason, who may be utilized as the goal-line back for the final three weeks of the season.
Marc Bulger, QB, STL: Fantasy owners who had banked on Bulger's return to the field for Week 15 were dealt a blow when he experienced discomfort throwing on Tuesday. It's likely that Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain the starter for the duration of the campaign. As such, owners are turning to active QB options.
Stephen Davis, RB, Car: Davis has been bounced to the waiver wire this week, as owners have finally conceded that DeShaun Foster is the No. 1 option in Carolina. Davis has carried the ball fewer than 10 times in four straight games, and has not scored since Week 10.
Duce Staley, RB, Pit: Staley owners had held out hope that Bill Cowher would get the veteran back into the mix for the playoff stretch. Staley has recorded a carry in only four games this year, and has been inactive for a number of games as Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis shoulder the load. As such, owners are adding players to their benches who are apt to see some PT.
Matt Jones, WR, Jac: Jones became a hot commodity on the waiver wire when he racked up TD receptions in four of five games. He's been virtually invisible the past three weeks, recording only four catches for 35 yards during that stretch. David Garrard has rediscovered the brilliance of veteran receiver Jimmy Smith of late.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Gus Frerotte, QB, Mia
For this week, I'm looking outside the box for those deciding between Mark Brunell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the like in your first-round playoff matchup. Though the Jets have been stingy against the pass (172 yards and about one TD per game), I like the Dolphins to move the ball on the ground with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and afford Frerotte some red zone opportunities. Chris Chambers has been playing out of his mind the past two weeks and will undoubtedly draw double-coverage, leaving TE Randy McMichael and veteran No. 2 Marty Booker to clean up. Frerotte won't rise too far beyond 200 yards, but I look for another two scoring strikes in this one.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Jamal Lewis, RB, Bal
We'd waited all season for that big game out of the veteran tailback, and we thought he'd turned the corner with his first 100-yard effort in Week 12 against Cincinnati. That was short-lived, as fumble problems and a bad hand have conspired to move him behind Chester Taylor. Lewis topped 80 rushing yards just three times this year and scored only three TDs. Taylor is expected to shoulder the load against Green Bay this week.
HOT AND COLD
Mark Clayton, WR, Bal: Two straight weeks with seven catches puts this rookie receiver squarely on the radar for those teams looking for a spark out of the third receiver position. In the past two weeks, Clayton has amassed 191 receiving yards and scored his first NFL TD. The Ravens have a decent matchup this week against Green Bay, and the rookie is sure to be a frequent target.
Bobby Engram, WR, Sea: Engram caught six passes for the fourth time in five games, earning his starting slot as one of Matt Hasselbeck's favorite targets. He also scored two touchdowns in Week 14, following up on his first TD reception in the rout of Philadelphia. The return of Darrell Jackson muddies the receiving picture for the Seahawks, but someone will need to catch the third-down passes.
Kurt Warner, QB, Ari: Warner topped 250 passing yards for the sixth straight week with his 41-attempt performance against the Redskins. He had one TD pass against two turnovers again, but finds himself in a prime spot for a huge game in Week 15 against the Texans. Houston allows 219 passing yards and more than one-and-a-half TDs per game.
Samkon Gado, RB, GB: What else can you say about this guy? Gado has scored in five of his six starts while rolling up more than 500 rushing yards. His 171-yard performance against the Lions in Week 14 was brilliant, and he's set to attempt an encore on Monday night against the Ravens.
Charlie Frye, QB, Cle: Frye recorded multiple TDs for the second straight week. His 138 passing yards were none too impressive in the battle for Ohio against Cincinnati, but he did hit TE Steve Heiden for a score, as well as run one in himself. Frye expects to be under center despite a tweaked knee as the Browns visit Oakland.
Koren Robinson, WR, Min: Get the ball in the hands of your playmakers by whatever means necessary. The Vikings called end-arounds for Robinson on three occasions, and he managed to find the end zone with one of them. He also whiffed on a sure-fire TD reception (Brad Johnson owners thank him vociferously). The speedy Robinson will be utilized in a similar fashion this week against a tough Pittsburgh defense. I suspect they'll try several fly patterns in an attempt to spread the defense.
Mark Brunell, QB, Was: The veteran QB certainly didn't think the return to a starting gig in D.C. would be as easy as he made it look early on (five straight multi-TD games). Since Week 7, Brunell has turned in just one multi-TD performance while tossing six interceptions and losing three fumbles. He's also thrown for under 200 yards in four consecutive games.
Kevin Curtis, WR, STL: "My kingdom for Marc Bulger under center!" Fantasy owners and Rams receivers, particularly Curtis, wish that the St. Louis No. 1 option was back under center. In the past two weeks under the rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis has been a non-starter. He's tallied four catches for 19 yards the past two weeks after that 56-yard game-winner in Week 12. He lived up to the "'05 Brandon Stokley" hype through the first half of the slate, but we'll need to saw the award in half and find another recipient.
Drew Bennett, WR, Ten: The follow-up to his breakout '04 season has been less than historic for the Titans receiver. Bennett missed three games due to injury, and has never dominated as the No. 1 target. He's scored just one TD this season, but came up empty in the highly favorable Week 14 matchup against the lowly Houston pass defense. Bennett managed a meager two catches for 15 yards.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, STL: The Harvard grad was the feel good story with his well-chronicled comeback performance against the Texans. His experiences as a starter have been much less memorable. Fitzpatrick has run for touchdowns in successive weeks, but has not thrown a TD pass while throwing six interceptions.
Aaron Brooks, QB, NO: Brooks has been an enigmatic QB during his time with the Saints, which will apparently end following the conclusion of the '05 season. Brooks tossed one TD in Monday's loss to the Falcons and did not commit a turnover. The move to send him to the bench in favor of Todd Bouman occurred one week after his zero-TD, four-INT game against the Buccaneers. It will be interesting to see where Brooks lands for '06.
Kevin Jones, RB, Det: Armed in the preseason with seemingly enough offensive weapons to challenge the traditional offensive juggernauts, the Lions, and particularly Jones, were predicted to reach new heights this season. Jones has yet to reach the 100-yard mark in any game this season. He appeared on track last week (nine carries, 63 yards) before an elbow injury sent him to the sidelines. Jones is not expected to play against Cincinnati this week.
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
The role of Jerome Bettis expanded beyond the normal vulture role in the slippery conditions at Heinz Field last week. The veteran tailback topped 100 yards for the first time in 2005 and contributed two touchdowns in the 21-9 win. Willie Parker remains the starter, but look for Bettis to continue his short yardage dominance as the Steelers roll into Minnesota this week.
T.J. Duckett failed to pile on the yardage against a miserable New Orleans defense (only 13 yards on 10 carries), but did find the end zone for the seventh time this year. Duckett plunged in from the one just four minutes into Monday's game.
Brandon Jacobs tallied just two carries for zero yards in the OT win over Philadelphia. For those watching the progress of this rookie bulldozer, Jacobs has one TD in the past five games.
Kyle Johnson doesn't necessarily fit the normal criteria for a vulture, but his TD efficiency rate cannot be ignored. The Denver fullback has six touchdowns in 19 Touches this year (4 carries, 15 receptions).
SAFETY VALVES: Surveying the Tight Ends
The Tight End is often the young or struggling quarterback's best friend. Sometimes, he's so dominant that he can't be denied. Here are several players making noise at the position.
Jeremy Shockey was the star of the Giants' win over Philadelphia. He tallied 10 catches for 107 yards in the OT win. It marked his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
Antonio Gates turned in an impressive day in the Chargers' loss to the Dolphins. He racked up 13 catches for 123 yards and scored his ninth TD of the season. Gates stands a mere three yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark for the year. No doubt he'll hit the mark early this week against the Colts.
Jerramy Stevens hasn't posted big numbers of late for the Seahawks, but he's certainly been one of the catalysts to their big starts in each of the past two weeks. Stevens caught three balls for 28 yards and a score in Sunday's rout of the 49ers. Next up, a date with the low-rated Tennessee pass defense.
Jason Witten was the recipient of the only traditional scoring strike for the Cowboys in Dallas' 31-28 win over Kansas City. Between the flea-flickers and end-arounds, Drew Bledsoe still found his safety valve with great frequency. Witten scored for the second time in three weeks, and his 93 receiving yards constituted a new season high.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
Team Y! Funston and his bevy of hometown Seahawks put a thumping on me in Week 15, as weak efforts from Willis McGahee and Larry Fitzgerald knocked me from the playoffs. Showing that scoring is great but timely scoring is better, the teams with the second and third-most points scored on the season (mine and FantasyGuru.com) are sitting on our couches for the playoffs in this one.