We've now reached that time of year when radio stations across the country bring up the legendary Jim Mora interview: "Playoffs! Playoffs!"
Yep, it's time for the fantasy playoffs. For many leagues, this week's slate either begins your league's race to the championship, or decides whether you're in or you're out.
Let's break down the need-to-know developments, starting with a trip to the injury report.
- Week 14 finds Fred Taylor with the "probable" tag yet again. He's been listed as such for two straight weeks before being deactivated by the weekend. It's possible that he actually sees some time this week, as Jack Del Rio looks to pull out all the stops and have all hands on deck for the anticipated showdown with the Colts. If you're a Greg Jones owner looking for another big outing in Taylor's place, you'll need to be near the desktop at game-time.
- In the wake of the 42-0 drubbing of the Eagles that included three touchdowns by the defense, the Seahawks lost Andre Dyson for the final four games with a high ankle sprain. He joins fellow defensive backs Kelly Herndon and Ken Hamlin on the shelf. With that said, the Seattle defense makes for one of the most popular waiver wire pickups this week with San Francisco on the slate for Week 14.
- Also in Seattle, there is a good chance that Darrell Jackson sees his first game action since Week 4 against San Francisco this weekend. Jackson will test his knee in practice with an eye on running a full workout with the first team offense on Friday. Barring any setbacks in those workouts, Jackson will hit the field on Sunday.
- The Patriots have listed Corey Dillon as questionable again this week against the Bills with a calf injury. Dillon returned to action in Week 13 after missing three games and picked up 84 total yards with a touchdown. Barring any problem in the final two days of practice, Dillon will be in the lineup against the Bills (140 rushing yards per game).
- LaDainian Tomlinson sat out Wednesday's practice with bruised ribs sustained in Sunday night's victory over the Raiders. Tomlinson brushed aside any questions about the injury, declaring himself ready to play. Interestingly, Bernie Wilson of the Associated Press reports that a fan emailed station KGTV to point out that a Raiders player caused the injury through some questionable tactics (sticking his knuckles into LT's side). Tomlinson was somewhat entertained by the report, adding, "It was a situation where, being the Raiders, you kind of expect it to happen." Ahh, rivalry games …
- Fantasy owners celebrated the 38-31 shootout between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati last week, as Ben Roethlisberger tossed three TDs and rolled up 386 passing yards. Roethlisberger did so despite a thumb injury that will likely require surgery at the end of the season. Neither the Steelers nor Roethlisberger will say that the thumb is broken, but suffice it to say, he's playing in quite a bit of pain.
- Cleveland Browns back Reuben Droughns sustained a strained knee in Week 13 against Jacksonville. He's currently listed as questionable this week for the Battle for Ohio against the Bengals. Coach Romeo Crennel expects Droughns to be available to start the game barring any setbacks. William Green and Lee Suggs would figure into the mix if Droughns is slowed by the injury.
- Tennessee TE Erron Kinney underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after colliding with a defender in Week 13 against Indianapolis. Kinney will miss a great opportunity this week against Houston's pass defense which means more passes available for Ben Troupe.
- Steve McNair sat out Wednesday's practice with a sore back and ankle. But, that's nothing new. McNair virtually always sits out Wednesday workouts, and let's face it, he's always got bumps and bruises. McNair is fully expected to be under center against the Texans, against whom he accounted for three TDs in Week 5.
- Curtis Martin has been slowed somewhat by a sprained knee that, according to new reports from the Newark Star-Ledger, may require surgery in the offseason. He'll be in the lineup on Sunday as he works to add another 1,000-yard season to his resume. Martin needs 265 yards in the final four games to reach the magical mark. Martin will find more room to run this week against a Raiders defense ceding 118 yards per game.
- Santana Moss left Redskins practice early on Wednesday with a tweaked hamstring. He's still listed on the official injury report as probable, and details about the severity of the injury are under wraps. Keep an eye on this one, because Moss and Mark Brunell were set up for big games against the Arizona defense. His loss limits Brunell's upside.
- The season of misery continued for the Eagles on Monday night when Brian Westbrook sprained his right foot in the embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Seahawks. Westbrook will miss the final four weeks of the year and may require surgery. His loss means that rookie Ryan Moats will get to audition for a bigger role in '06 as the starter.
- We have another disgruntled wideout causing issues off the field. Eric Moulds was suspended for one game for comments detrimental to the team after criticizing Mike Mularkey's play-calling (Moulds was targeted only twice this past week). Lee Evans slides into the top spot, with rookie Roscoe Parrish seeing more time as the Bills host New England and its 31st-ranked pass defense (255 yards per game with 21 TDs allowed).
- And, since we're on the topic of disgruntled players, the latest reports have Terrell Owens dumping agent Drew Rosenhaus. Owens would be the second marquee player to fire Rosenhaus in a week. Javon Walker, who threatened a holdout before reporting to the Packers, dismissed the outspoken agent last week.
- Koren Robinson, WR, Min: Robinson continues to do tremendously in kickoff duties for the Vikings, but has emerged as a prime target for Brad Johnson in the past three weeks. Robinson has recorded back-to-back games with four receptions and sprinted for an 80-yard TD early in Week 13. Robinson has a great shot for a repeat performance (four catches, 148 yards) going against the St. Louis pass defense.
- Ryan Moats, RB, Phi: The injury to Brian Westbrook on Monday night opened up another starting gig for a RB. Now, it's not exactly a prime spot with the recent fortunes of the Eagles, but 20 Touches is 20 Touches. Moats gets a stiff test in his first start this week against the Giants. He's worthy of a roster spot, but I'd be looking elsewhere against that defense.
- Marques Tuiasosopo, QB, Oak: After a rough month of games from QB Kerry Collins, Norv Turner finally made the switch for this week's game at the Jets. Tuiasosopo will undoubtedly lean heavily on LaMont Jordan to move the ball against the Jets run defense to get them toward the red zone. Of course, Jordan also factors heavily into the passing game (he and Brian Westbrook are the only backs to lead their teams in rushing yards and receptions) and may aid Tui into the end zone. I don't look for big things down the stretch, as the schedule (Browns, Broncos, and Giants) isn't very kind, but with Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, and the aforementioned Jordan in place, he certainly has weapons. And, as they say, it only takes one slip from a defender.
- Stephen Davis, RB, Car: Davis has recently been chucked to the waiver wire with the emergence of DeShaun Foster in Carolina. However, he's being claimed with great frequency as well. He had just five carries for eight yards before watching Foster run wild against the Falcons. Carolina may still use him as a battering ram around the goal line, but that remains to be seen. In any event, owners are taking the chance that this 12-TD performer gets his shot down low.
- Neil Rackers, K, Ari: Late word from Arizona has Rackers possibly returning to action for Sunday's game against Washington. He's recovered quickly from his partially torn calf muscle and may be available to kick PATs and short field goals.
- Matt Jones, WR, Jac: David Garrard has not looked in Jones' direction nearly as much as Byron Leftwich had before his injury. Jones scored in four of five games before Leftwich left the field. In the past two weeks, he's tallied just one catch for seven yards. The Jaguars face the Colts in the most heralded matchup of Week 14, and that will be a difficult matchup for the passing attack with the Colts surrendering just 13 points per game.
- Marion Barber, RB, Dal: Barber's workload decreased dramatically as Julius Jones re-established himself as the No. 1 back in Big D. In last week's loss to the Giants, Barber tallied only two carries for eight yards. He may see a bit of action as a change of pace back against difficult run defenses in KC, Washington, and Carolina, but that's not enough for owners to keep him onboard heading into the playoffs.
- Eric Moulds, WR, Buf: He got himself suspended for this weekend's game against New England with comments about the coaching staff and lobbying for more Looks from J.P. Losman. Moulds was targeted just twice in the loss to Miami after three games with five or more receptions. Sam Aiken slides into the starting lineup alongside Lee Evans in his absence. Moulds is expected to be back for the final three games.
- Mewelde Moore, RB, Min: Moore sprained his ankle early in Week 13 and left the game, paving the way to Michael Bennett's huge game. Moore was upgraded to probable for this week's game against St. Louis on Thursday. Bennett also has a tweaked ankle, so it's looking like a split situation this week. Owners are off seeking full-time starters such as Ryan Moats, DeShaun Foster, and Samkon Gado.
- Mike McMahon, QB, Phi: Owners grabbed McMahon by the thousands after McNabb was declared out. After two interceptions were returned for touchdowns in the Monday debacle against Seattle, they'd seen enough. McMahon had been cast to the waiver wire with great frequency this week.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Lee Evans, WR, Buf
Evans has scored in every December game in which he has appeared in his short NFL career. He started all highlight reels last week (OK, he was trumped by the Colts and Chris Chambers) with three scores and 100 receiving yards in the first quarter. This week, the Bills welcome New England for a game to be played in less than ideal temperatures, but Evans is clearly the No. 1 man for Losman and will seek to build on his 10 Looks in Week 13. The suspension of Eric Moulds for this week's game means ample opportunities for the second-year receiver.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Kerry Collins, QB, Oak
A trip to the bench after tossing at least one INT in six straight games forces Collins to the waiver wire this week. Collins failed to dominate with the weapons at his disposal, throwing either one or zero TD passes in the Raiders' past three games. Barring injury, Marques Tuiasosopo gets an extended audition for a job in '06 for the final four weeks.
HOT AND COLD
Seattle Defense: The Seahawks defense posted perhaps the most ridiculous stat line ever in the Week 13 thrashing of Philadelphia. Owners of the Seattle D that started them in that contest poured on 44 points in the Yahoo! default settings. That's just crazy stuff. Those that didn't move Seattle into the starting lineup screamed a mighty Homer Simpson-like "D'oh!"
Brad Johnson, QB, Min: First, Johnson has brought a sense of stability and organization to the Vikings after a chaotic beginning (five straight wins). But that doesn't mean anything in the fantasy world. Johnson has tossed five touchdowns in the past two weeks and has a tremendous opportunity on Sunday against the St. Louis secondary. He topped 200 yards in both games and did not commit a turnover. The Rams allow 240 yards and two TDs per game via the air.
Domanick Davis, RB, Hou: Davis has piled up more than 400 yards of total offense over the past three weeks with two touchdowns. The Texans are in a solid spot in Week 14 against Tennessee, whose defense allows 26.6 points per game.
DeShaun Foster, RB, Car: Foster staked his claim to the top spot in Carolina with 180 yards of offense and two scores against Atlanta. Foster is in a tough spot against Tampa Bay this week, but the combination of his rushing and receiving skills should allow him to post decent totals.
Eddie Kennison, WR, Kan: Kennison has contributed four or more catches to the Chiefs' bottom line each of the past six weeks. He's topped 40 or more yards in each of those games with two 100-yard games and three scores.
Randy Moss, WR, Oak: Kerry Collins got benched for his recent efforts, and part of that reason was the fact that Randy Moss has been a virtual spectator in the offense. Moss has gained only 142 yards over the past three weeks and hasn't found the end zone during that period. Even the seven catches for 74 yards last week doesn't do much to raise his stock, as he'll draw Ty Law in coverage this week.
Willis McGahee, RB, Buf: McGahee's scoreless streak was extended to six games in Week 13 against Miami. He posted his highest yardage total since Week 8 with 98 total yards, but that's small consolation for those that selected him in the middle of the first round.
Jake Plummer, QB, Den: Plummer was the talk of the NFL world (real and fantasy) with his tremendous streak without turnovers and solid fantasy efforts. In the past three weeks, he's accounted for only two touchdowns while turning the ball over four times.
Joe Horn, WR, NO: Aaron Brooks has looked to Zachary Hilton, Donte' Stallworth, and Devery Henderson with great frequency in the past several weeks. No. 1 wideout Joe Horn has gone silent during this period, averaging four catches and 56 yards per contest. Horn has not found the end zone since Week 2.
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
- Jerome Bettis found the end zone for the first time in three weeks and just the third time this season in the 38-31 defeat to Cincinnati. He tallied 37 yards combined on eight carries and three receptions. Willie Parker is established as the top option in Pittsburgh, but it's always good to see the veteran Bettis in the painted grass and to know that he remains on the fantasy radar for those in need of RB help.
- You're never going to find big yardage out of him, but Giants rookie Brandon Jacobs continues to be used as a battering ram for Tom Coughlin, much to the chagrin of Tiki Barber owners. Jacobs scored his sixth TD of the season and first in four weeks, finishing the day with two carries for two yards and a score.
- After scoring in two straight weeks, T.J. Duckett was limited to four yards on four carries against the Panthers, with one catch for two yards. Things should be better for the Atlanta running game on Monday night against the bottom-feeding Saints defense (136 yard per game on the ground).
- Mike Alstott saw his four-game scoring streak end in Week 13 against New Orleans when he failed to touch the ball. The Bucs face the Panthers for the second time this Week 14, a tough matchup for sure. Alstott contributed two catches for 21 yards in the previous meeting and rushed one time for one yard and a TD.
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.
- Ben Troupe got back on-track after several games during which he was slowed by an ankle injury. He finished Week 13 with five catches for 67 yards, and now faces the miserable Houston pass defense without Erron Kinney pilfering Looks.
- In the past three weeks, Zachary Hilton has been targeted seven times per game. Hilton caught four balls for 50 yards in Week 13 (11 catches for 118 yards and a score over three weeks).
- Dallas Clark is the name of the duo, but Bryan Fletcher has become a prime red zone target for Peyton Manning in running their record to 12-0. Fletcher has scored in three straight weeks while never topping 30 receiving yards. Owners in need of an end zone threat out of the TE position might take a glance in his direction against a Jacksonville defense that is stingy with passing yards, but has surrendered 16 passing TDs.
- He hasn't set the fantasy world on fire, but Todd Heap has performed well in this comeback season for the Ravens. Heap has averaged more than four catches and 52 yards per game (four total touchdowns). It's not mind blowing, but that's solid weekly production out of a TE not named Gates.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
Team Y! Funston was the first to clinch a playoff spot with a ridiculous output from his bevy of Seattle players. He didn't need anything from his offensive players, as the defense took care of business. It's the final week of action, with much of the playoff picture left to be decided.