Fun with Numbers

Mike Harmon
Yahoo! Sports

Are you ready for the playoffs? No doubt you've made your final lineup tweaks to prepare for this weekend's games. Just make sure that you recognize that there are three Saturday matchups. With the NCAA heading into the bowl season, we'll get to enjoy the NFL on Saturdays for the next two weeks. And don't forget next Friday's Christmas Eve matchup, as well. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you're facing tough lineup decisions at your skill positions and are looking for an outside opinion, check out this Friday's edition of Yahoo! Sports' "NFL This Week" and Fantasy Forum, where we'll offer help to several owners selected from the mailbag.

For now, let's get inside the numbers through Week 14.

Fresh off of the shootout on Monday night, the Titans roll up to Oakland. The Raiders rank 30th in the NFL, allowing 27.9 points per game. Tennessee gives up 26.4 points per game, making this a potential breakout game for the skill position players on both sides.

The emergence of Drew Brees and Antonio Gates has had tongues wagging all season, and rightfully so. However, the advancement of the defense deserves equal notice, as the Chargers allow a minuscule 77.5 rushing yards per game. They've also forced 26 turnovers.

Ken Dorsey looked more comfortable last week in San Francisco's victory against Arizona, tossing three touchdown passes with zero picks. Of course, Arizona serves as the whipping boy for San Francisco. Look for his performance and those of his teammates to fall back to earth against the attacking Redskins defense (16.8 points allowed per game).

Redskins receiver Rod Gardner has regularly fallen short of 50 receiving yards this season. Though the Redskins' offense has come alive, it's the combination of Laveranues Coles, Clinton Portis and rookie Chris Cooley that will receive the bulk of the action. Gardner hasn't scored since Week 8.

Last year, Hines Ward racked up 95 receptions for Pittsburgh with 10 games of five or more catches. Ward started off in similar fashion this season (seven straight games of six or more receptions), but has recorded no more than four catches in a game since Week 8.

Though this season has been a bust for the New Orleans Saints, Joe Horn leads the NFL in receiving yards. He has already eclipsed his reception total of last season and is just one shy of last year's 10-TD total. And he's done it without a four-TD, cell phone-grabbing performance.

The rejuvenated Jerome Bettis used the dreaded "R" word while talking to reporters this week. It's hard to believe that "The Bus" would walk away from the game unless the Steelers advance to Jacksonville. His 12 rushing touchdowns in 2004 mark a career-high, and he'll look to pad those numbers against the Giants this week.

Eleven running backs have topped the 1,000-yard mark through Week 14. Ahman Green needs to amass eight yards against Jacksonville to reach that magical total for the fifth straight season. Last season, 18 backs reached 1,000 rushing yards.

In seven games, Billy Volek has tossed 13 TD passes. He's hooked up with Drew Bennett for six touchdowns in the past two weeks. Oakland ranks fifth in the NFL with 24 touchdown passes allowed. Bennett is owned in just 55 percent of leagues heading into this weekend.

Despite two straight weeks of double-digit catches, T.J. Houshmandzadeh remains available in 40 percent of leagues.

Peyton Manning stands just two touchdowns shy of Dan Marino's single-season TD pass record and gets to try his hand at the fourth-ranked Baltimore defense (15.8 points per game). I suspect that Manning emerges from the game tied for the season mark. However, those owners that have survived all season graced by his five-TD games will need help from their backs and receivers for this one.

Finally, Manning appears on 59 percent of the top 500 teams in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football PLUS public leagues. Terrell Owens ranks second at 24.6 percent.

Here is your late-week playoff injury update:

  • Carson Palmer remains on crutches with a sprained right knee and is resigned to missing Week 15 against Buffalo. 2003 Comeback Player of the Year Jon Kitna will replace him in the starting lineup.

  • Reuben Droughns is sufficiently recovered from the pinched nerve in his neck and will likely start on Sunday. The availability of rookie Tatum Bell is still to be determined, although he has made great progress with his separated shoulder.

  • Keenan McCardell is listed as questionable with the hamstring injury sustained last week. He has been virtually invisible for the past three weeks and owners should look elsewhere for receiving help.

  • As expected, Priest Holmes was shut down for the season. Derrick Blaylock is banged up and will yield the starting job to Larry Johnson this week. He won't pile up the yards and touchdowns as quickly against the Denver defense, but he should hit 80 yards and a TD with 20 carries this week.

  • Johnnie Morton missed practice on Wednesday with a strained knee. He did catch a TD pass against Tennessee and fought through the pain, but his availability for this week is still in question.

  • Marc Bulger threw on the side during Wednesday's workout and may be ready to go against Arizona. His status should be updated on Friday. If he can't go, Chris Chandler will man the ship again.

  • Tyrone Wheatley will miss another game with his hamstring tear. Justin Fargas, Amos Zereoue and J.R. Redmond will split time against a susceptible Titans defense, but for a playoff matchup, all three should be planted firmly on your bench or, even safer, on the waiver wire.

  • Kicker John Hall of the Redskins was placed on injured reserve with an injured quad, forcing the signing of Jeff Chandler. The Washington offense has come alive to a degree behind Patrick Ramsey, meaning that Chandler might be worth a look against San Francisco.

  • Terrell Owens is nursing a deep bruise on his, well … suffice to say, it's uncomfortable for him to sit. He expects to be ready for the matchup against Dallas. With his season-long bet to get Andy Reid in tights – he has to reach 15 TD's – on the line, he'll be ready to roll.

Be sure to check the pages of Yahoo! Sports for last-minute injury updates and Yahoo! Weather for information on weather conditions in Green Bay, New York and the remaining host cities that may affect these important matchups.

Best of luck this weekend.

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