It's now Week 16 of the NFL season, and that means a couple of things. First, you're dancing deep into the playoffs (bully for you!). Second, it means we've run smack-dab into the holidays (please accept my best wishes to you and yours for a happy, health-filled, and victorious holiday season, whatever you celebrate).
And third, it means holiday greeting cards and emails are filled with smack-talking to those of your friends, family, and co-workers who failed to reach the postseason.
There are a number of big games on tap for this week with playoff berths at stake. We've got piles of quarterbacks either hurt or benched (here's your chance to start Joey Harrington again), and more RBs expecting to reduce their workloads. We celebrate the Week 15 performances of Mark Brunell and Kyle Boller, and their respective tight ends, Chris Cooley and Todd Heap. But mainly, we're looking forward to the semi-finals and championship games across the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football universe.
Let's break down the week, starting with our whip-around through the injury reports.
Peyton Manning experienced swelling in one of his knees after Sunday's loss to San Diego. It's not considered to be serious, but it might factor into how long he plays on Saturday. Manning has a streak of consecutive starts dating back to 1998, so he'll certainly take a few snaps. However, Manning owners will need maximum efficiency in the several series he'll play.
Everyone's favorite waiver-wire pickup, Samkon Gado, was lost to the Packers for their final two games with a torn MCL sustained on Monday night against Baltimore. Tony Fisher assumes the starting role for the Packers, who have seen running backs fall with alarming regularity.
Marvin Harrison has a broken bone in his hand that kept him out of a mid-week practice. However, the bigger issue for him this weekend is how heavy a workload the Colts starters will put in during the essentially meaningless contest with the Seahawks. Harrison was expected to see only a handful of series at most. With the injury to his hand, Harrison might not suit up at all.
Eddie Kennison missed a mid-week practice as he recovers from a strained MCL sustained in Saturday's loss to the Giants. He's currently listed as questionable for Saturday's showdown with the Chargers. With Kennison hobbled, second-year receiver Samie Parker stands to pick up Looks this weekend. Parker has averaged five catches and 70 yards receiving over the past four weeks, and offers Trent Green a speed receiver on the outside.
Staying with the Chiefs, All-Pro tailback Larry Johnson is battling a sore collarbone but returned to practice mid-week. He'll be ready to go behind his healthy O-Line as the Chiefs battle for a possible playoff berth.
Dolphins rookie tailback Ronnie Brown lowered his expectations for participating in Saturday's game versus Miami, citing soreness in his left ankle and knee. He was unable to practice on Wednesday, spending his time on the exercise bike instead. Brown will give it the old college try on Friday, but whether he's ready to suit up or not, expect Ricky Williams to handle the bulk of the workload against the Titans.
Kevan Barlow has been slowed of late with cartilage damage in his left knee, and has been officially listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against St. Louis. Frank Gore is also banged up for the 49ers, with all indications that he'll have offseason surgery on both shoulders. Gore did practice on Thursday and was upgraded for Saturday's game. Maurice Hicks will likely split carries with him against the porous St. Louis run defense.
Gus Frerotte returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to start against the Titans despite Sage Rosenfels' strong play in relief after he hurt his finger last week. Frerotte is an intriguing gamble pick for those this week who have survived within their leagues despite sub-par QB play. The Titans have allowed an average of two passing TDs per game.
LaMont Jordan was seen wearing a protective boot at practice, which means he's unlikely to take the field when the Raiders visit the Broncos. Zack Crockett would step into the starting role in his absence, with "Son of Huggy Bear" Justin Fargas receiving some portion of the workload.
Chris Brown has injured every body part this season (ankle, knee, shoulder, you name it), but he's taken the Monty Python-esque "Not dead yet" approach to the final games of the season. The shoulder injury kept him off the practice field on Thursday, calling his availability for Saturday in to question. Brown has yet to miss a game this year, and would love to play through the final two games against Miami and Jacksonville. If he is forced out of action, Travis Henry has rebounded nicely from his ankle injury and will serve as the starter.
LaDainian Tomlinson has been slowed by bruised ribs over the past several weeks, and must have certainly been in tremendous pain to miss the closing minutes of the win over Indianapolis. However, he's expected back in the starting lineup for San Diego as they battle for their playoff lives against Kansas City.
Check out all of the latest injury updates as the deadline approaches with Game Day Calls.
Zack Crockett, RB, OAK: Crockett steps into the top spot for the Raiders against a difficult Denver run defense with LaMont Jordan's turf toe. His last significant work came in Week 17 of the '04 season when he carried the ball 21 times for 124 yards against the Jaguars (whose defense ranked No. 1 for the second half of '04).
Josh McCown, QB, Ari: McCown returns to the starting spot in Arizona with Kurt Warner's season-ending knee injury. The Cardinals feature an all-passing offense, where the QB attempts at least 40 throws. The Cardinals face an Eagles defense that has been susceptible to big plays, and being able to choose between Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin is a quandary any QB would love to have. Look for yardage in the 225-250 range with 1-2 scores this week.
Jonathan Wells, RB, HOU: Wells accounted well for himself in the absence of Domanick Davis last weekend, rushing for 87 yards and two scores. He's compiled at least 75 total yards and a TD in each of his three starts this year in place of Davis.
Dominic Rhodes, WR, IND: Rhodes is a waiver wire pickup as owners play the "when will Edge sit down?" game. James figures to play a few series on Saturday against Seattle, but he's virtually assured of a spectator role for the season finale against Arizona.
New England Defense: The Patriots are rising and getting healthy on defense. The front seven shut down Carnell Williams in Week 15, limiting the rookie back to 23 rushing yards in the 28-0 shutout. The Patriots have allowed a total of 10 points in their past three contests, with one of those opponents on slate for Monday night (the Jets).
Michael Turner, RB, SD: Turner turned heads with his explosive 83-yard scamper down the sidelines to ice the San Diego win over Indianapolis. He's proven a viable backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, averaging a robust 5.8 yards per carry on 56 attempts this year. He's scored TDs in three of the Chargers past five games, so he's no stranger to the end zone either. With Tomlinson back at practice, Turner doesn't figure to see much action unless LT is re-injured. However, if the Chargers should lose in Week 16 and be eliminated from playoff contention, he may find himself in the starting slot for the finale versus Denver.
Tony Fisher, RB, GB: Fisher gets another crack at the starting lineup due to the injury to Samkon Gado. When last he took to the starting role, he carried the ball 17 times for 51 yards and a score versus Cincinnati. Of course, he then met with an injury of his own and watched Gado emerge as "the guy." Fisher has long been a viable receiving threat out of the backfield (34 catches in '05), but is averaging a weak 2.9 yards per carry on 47 attempts, thus far. And, it won't be easy this weekend against the Chicago defense. Proceed with caution.
Ricky Williams, RB, MIA: The injuries to Ronnie Brown continue to pile up, giving another boost to Williams' comeback campaign. Williams has scored in three of the Dolphins' past four games (all wins), and has rushed for 70 or more yards in three of his past five games (with 78 total yards in another during that stretch). He next faces a Titans defense that surrenders 112 yards per game on the ground.
Mewelde Moore, RB, MIN: In the past three games, Moore has carried the ball a total of four times for -1 yards, and has been relegated to returning punts. Michael Bennett is firmly entrenched as the starter despite a sub-par performance against Pittsburgh, so owners are looking to other options that may see time in the final weeks to account for injured and under-performing backs.
Lee Evans, WR, BUF: Kelly Holcomb's return to the starting lineup decimated Evans' chances last week, as Holcomb turned to Eric Moulds will great frequency. Evans caught two passes for a season-low five yards in the loss to Denver in Week 15. He was still targeted seven times during the game, but the inconsistency of the Bills offense, and Evans' role in it, has forced him back to the waiver wire.
Brett Favre, QB, GB: Almost anyone watching Monday night's game (save you Todd Heap and Matt Stover owners, and Ravens fans) had to feel for Brett Favre at least somewhat during that debacle. At several points, it appeared that his receivers had given up on routes, most disturbingly in red zone situations. Over the past three games, the formerly automatic Favre has failed to throw a TD pass while firing five INTs and losing three fumbles. Next for Favre is a Chicago defense that sent five members to the Pro Bowl.
Seattle Defense: Owners of the Seahawks defense bought low and sold sky high, dumping the unit back to the waiver wire in anticipation of a less than stellar day against the Colts. Even with the Colts' starters expected to play minimal snaps, the possibility of them dropping a few scores sent Seattle owners in other directions, such as the Rams (facing San Francisco), the Jaguars (facing Houston), and the Patriots.
Brad Johnson, QB, MIN: Johnson didn't figure to put up big totals against Pittsburgh, but his 143 yards and two interceptions sealed his return, at least as far as fantasy owners were concerned. It marked the second straight game during which he failed to throw a TD pass or reach 150 passing yards.
Joe Horn, WR, NO: This season has certainly been trying for the Coaches and players of the New Orleans Saints, and perhaps no player has been more frustrated than Horn. He hasn't seen the end zone since Week 2, and was thrown to just four times last week in the loss to Carolina. Horn recorded a single catch for six yards while watching teammate Donte' Stallworth continue to emerge as a top option.
Greg Jones, RB, JAC: The return of Fred Taylor to active duty last week dealt a severe blow to Jones' fantasy value for the remaining two games. He tallied 14 Touches for 54 yards against San Francisco, while ceding the majority of work to Taylor. This week sets up nicely on paper with a matchup versus Houston, but owners are banking that Jack Del Rio tries to give his veteran back a huge day against a bad Houston run defense leading into the playoffs.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Brandon Stokley, WR, Ind
With Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and company expected to make early departures from Saturday's game against Seattle, Peyton Manning and backup Jim Sorgi will need to throw the ball to somebody. Stokley will likely be the beneficiary of their early departures, particularly because Seattle will still be playing to secure home-field advantage. The Colts figure to run their normal sets throughout, with Stokley serving as the top target.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Kevin Curtis, WR, StL
Curtis got bad news, along with fantasy owners, that QB Marc Bulger hadn't shown sufficient improvement to his shoulder and had been shut down for the year. Curtis has become a non-factor in the Rams' passing attack, catching a total of five passes for 26 yards in the past three games. This week is promising on paper against the weak San Francisco pass defense, but it appears that Shaun McDonald has become the preferred No. 3 option. McDonald was targeted 10 times in Sunday's loss to Philadelphia.
HOT AND COLD
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA: Hasselbeck is simply "en fuego" heading into this week's marquee matchup with Indianapolis. Hasselbeck has thrown eight touchdowns against a single interception in his past three games (and that includes the Philly game where he departed very early). The Pro Bowl QB is tied with Eli Manning with 22 touchdowns to lead the NFC.
Chris Chambers, WR, MIA: Chambers has been a man on fire in the past three weeks, racking up nearly 400 receiving yards, 27 receptions, and four scores as part of Miami's four-game winning streak. He next faces a Tennessee defense that has allowed 29 passing touchdowns this season. Odds are pretty good that he opens an early holiday gift on Saturday versus the Titans.
Anquan Boldin, WR, ARI: The loss of Kurt Warner casts a bit of a shadow over the Cardinals' final two games, but there's no stopping Boldin at this point. He's topped the century mark in eight of 12 games in which he's appeared. That's dominance. He's scored in three of his past five contests, and has racked up seven receptions per game.
Thomas Jones, RB, CHI: Before the switch to Rex Grossman, which may improve the Bears passing attack, fantasy owners could rely on a consistent effort from Jones. He's topped 75 total yards in each of the five games he's played since missing Week 10 versus San Francisco, and scored in two straight weeks. He's a great option this week against a Packers defense that allowed 100 yards and a score to Jamal Lewis, and was steam-rolled by the Ravens offense.
David Givens, WR, NE: Givens found himself back in the end zone for the first time since Week 6 against Tampa Bay, and also topped 100 yards receiving for the second time this year. He tallied only five catches for 27 yards in the first meeting with the Jets, but has been a big-play threat the past two weeks (receptions of 37 and 40 yards in those games). In recent weeks, the Jets have surrendered big passing days to Aaron Brooks and the Miami duo of Sage Rosenfels and Gus Frerotte. Here's thinking that Tom Brady joins the list, with Givens as his big play threat. Givens has caught a pass of at least 16 yards in eight of the 11 games in which he's appeared.
Brooks Bollinger, QB, NYJ: Bollinger has played well in three of the Jets past four games (with the first NE contest being the castoff), tossing four touchdowns against zero interceptions in those contests. He also registered 175 yards of offense in each of the non-New England games and twice threw for over 250 yards. Owners seeking a second QB on the waiver wire are encouraged that he's averaged 33 attempts over the past four weeks.
Clinton Portis, RB, WAS: Portis posted his third consecutive 100-yard game in the trouncing of the Cowboys in Week 15. He's also run for 87 or more yards in six straight. Week 16 brings a matchup of interest as the Redskins host the Giants. In their first meeting, a 36-0 burial at the hands of New York, Portis accrued just four carries for nine yards.
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU: The Texans worked to get the ball into Johnson's hands frequently once he returned from the calf injury that sidelined him for four weeks, but his production has dropped off of late. He's caught 14 passes in the past three games for 148 yards (49.3 per game) with zero touchdowns. He enters the Week 15 games against Jacksonville with just a single TD reception.
Greg Lewis, WR, PHI: Lewis was going to be the guy when Terrell Owens had his latest run-in with Andy Reid. The third-year receiver had caught at least three passes in nine of the team's first 10 games. Since then, he's been invisible, amassing only seven receptions for 52 yards over four weeks and he hasn't scored since Week 2.
Michael Vick, QB, ATL: Given the dearth of top-notch QBs in the NFC, Vick received word of a Pro Bowl berth on Wednesday. However, he hasn't played the part of late, throwing for under 200 yards in two of his past three games while throwing five interceptions with one TD pass (he added two TDs on the ground versus New Orleans). However, he came up short in the Sunday matchup at Chicago, and must now travel to Tampa Bay, a team whose defense had dominated against the pass ahead of last week's effort by Tom Brady. It could be another long day for the Falcons' offense in this one.
Chris Brown, RB, TEN: Brown has played through pain, and for that he must be commended. However, that only goes so far in the fantasy world. In the past three weeks, Brown has accrued only 65 total yards per game and failed to find the end zone. He's now listed as questionable with a variety of injuries for this week's game on the road versus Miami.
Matt Jones, WR, JAC: As Jimmy Smith re-established himself as the go-to guy in Jacksonville under David Garrard, Jones has become a non-factor for fantasy owners and has been tossed back to the waiver wire en masse this week. The rookie receiver has gone scoreless in four straight games, and has caught a total of six passes for 46 yards during that stretch. As he's only in his first year as a receiver (remember, he was a QB in college), his 377 yards and four scores on the year is quite impressive. Owners and now former owners of Jones just wish he'd gotten hot for the final four weeks.
Eli Manning, QB, NYG: Things have been tough on the second-year QB as the season rolls toward its end. Manning has been erratic of late, and though the Giants have won three straight while averaging 23 points per game, Manning has not been much help to fantasy owners. He's averaged a respectable 217 yards (on the strength of a 312-yard day in the OT win over Philly), but has thrown just two touchdowns against five interceptions with a fumble lost. Things don't get any easier this week with Washington's stout pass defense on the schedule.
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
The Falcons' bulldozer, T.J. Duckett, got upended by the Bears defense on two critical short yardage plays in Sunday's 16-3 loss to Chicago. He finished the game with eight carries for a total of -2 yards. Yes, that's a minus sign.
Jerome Bettis carried the ball with a bit more success than Duckett, but finished the game with just 16 yards on nine carries in the follow-up to his dominant performance over Chicago. Willie Parker and Verron Haynes combined for 117 yards on 23 carries.
With the 28-0 shutout by New England, Mike Alstott didn't have much of an opportunity to barrel over would-be Patriots tacklers. In fact, he had three Touches in the loss for 10 yards. It marked his third straight game without a TD after running a scoring streak to four games.
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.
The Redskins certainly capitalized on every Dallas mistake this past weekend, be it a turnover or missed tackle, with no player benefiting more than Cooley. It marked his 13th game in 14 outings with three or more receptions, as he amassed 71 receiving yards and three scores by halftime. In his last meeting with the Giants, the Redskins' Week 16 opponent, Cooley registered only three catches for 19 yards.
Ben Troupe continued the charge for the Titans TE corps, as he snagged six balls for 116 yards last week. For the year, the second-year TE has caught at least three passes in nine of the 12 games in which he's appeared.
Doug Jolley complained about his role all season after being acquired by the Jets from Oakland. He finally got an opportunity to step forth with the injury to Chris Baker, and turned in his second career 100-yard game against Miami in Week 15. He also scored his first TD of the year.
All-Pro TE Antonio Gates certainly celebrated the win against Indianapolis and picked up a pivotal first down late on one of his six receptions. But, with only 29 yards receiving and no end zone dances, he came up short for owners not rewarded for his receptions.
Todd Heap's huge night signaled my demise in an industry experts league. I had amassed a 28-point advantage, only to watch Heap roll over the Packers for nine receptions, 110 yards, and two scores to break my back. Who'd have thought that the Ravens' passing attack would be someone's undoing based on positive stats?
In Week 16, only eight tight ends found the end zone. Five of them likely occupied starting fantasy slots (Cooley, Heap, Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, and Jerramy Stevens), but let's give it up for Doug Jolley, Mike Bartrum, and in particular, Wesley Duke, as he contributed to the bottom line for Jake Plummer owners. Not many owners rode into the playoffs on the arms of McMahon and Bollinger.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
The playoffs are in full effect here with Semifinal matchups going off this week. Team Y! – Funston takes on team Y! – Lago in a matchup featuring Funston's Seattle-laden squad against a mix of players led by Big Ben Roethlisberger and Marvin Harrison. In the other matchup, Team KFFL – Rij, led by Jake Plummer, Anquan Boldin, and LaDainian Tomlinson faces off against Team RotoWire – Liss, who will bank on big days from Tom Brady, Larry Johnson, and an encore by Chris Cooley.