For the bulk of fantasy leagues, the playoffs begin with this week's contests. We've all battled through injuries, curious coaching decisions and the frustrations of players ducking on and off the radar to this point of no return.
As I've been doing for weeks now, I'll reach into the mailbag to assist our readers with lineup conundrums. We've got situations involving top running backs, breakout receivers and an upstart QB versus a cagey veteran. Let's take a look:
Though the Dolphins rank 29th against the run, they have allowed only 10 touchdowns on the ground. In their first matchup this season, Dillon was held to 94 yards on 18 carries with zero touchdowns. I believe that Miami comes up strong on Monday night and holds Dillon out of the end zone again.
Davis has scored in six straight games and has been the only consistent offensive threat for the Texans. David Carr has been ineffective on the road, tossing only four touchdowns in six games. With strong winds and some snow expected in Chicago, Davis will see 25-30 touches.
The Ravens defense is tied for seventh in the NFL, allowing 101.3 yards per game with just six touchdowns on the ground. The Colts will work to establish James early to open things up for Peyton Manning and the passing game. James has gone over the century mark in five of the last six games, and will fight toward that mark again with 25 touches.
I love Ward, but crushing blocks don't show up in fantasy stats. He hasn't caught more than four balls since Week 8. The Giants will face a steady diet of Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley (check his status if he's on your squad). Therefore, toss Ward out. Go with Clayton and Lelie.
Clayton averages a shade under six catches per game on the season and has been held under four catches just twice. This week he faces the 31st-ranked Saints pass defense. The rookie also needs only 12 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
After watching Billy Volek and Drew Bennett torch the Chiefs last week, Lelie's big-play abilities will be on display this week. Kansas City allows 28 points per game, meaning that a big day for Jake Plummer and company should be on tap. Lelie needs 111 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The two bombs he'll catch from Plummer should get him there this week.
I can start two of the following three RB's this week: Nick Goings, Deuce McAllister, and Reuben Droughns.
I can also start two of the following four WR's: Lee Evans, Joey Galloway, Eddie Kennison, and Roy Williams.
– Gus from Moscow, ID
I'm tossing McAllister out of the mix. Though he's reached the 100-yard mark in four of the last five contests against the Bucs, he's only found the end zone once. The Saints offense has been inconsistent and Deuce has topped 100 yards just three times this year. I'd run with Goings and Droughns.
Goings has gone above 100 yards in four straight games. The Panthers will continue to pound the rock against a banged-up Falcons team that has already secured its playoff berth. Expect Goings to forge ahead to another 100-yard day with a score.
Reuben Droughns looks to atone for a rough, fumble-riddled game in Week 14. He'll shred the Chiefs run defense much like Chris Brown did in his one half of work on Monday night.
As for the receiver question, run with Lee Evans and Joey Galloway. The Lions passing offense is too inconsistent to rely on Williams this week, and though Kennison is on a roll, the Chiefs face a tough Denver defense. Evans has emerged as a big-play threat in the Bills' second-half resurgence and goes against a susceptible Cincy pass defense. Galloway runs opposite rookie standout Michael Clayton and is finally healthy. He has three touchdowns and nine catches in the past two weeks, and faces a horrendous Saints defense this week.
Favre and the Packers welcome a tough Jacksonville defense to Lambeau Field. The Jacksonville defense allows 212 passing yards and one TD on average, and in the blustery conditions at Lambeau, it's hard to envision Favre blowing those numbers away. You'll get your one TD, but I would anticipate a large role for Ahman Green this week.
Therefore, though Brees has tossed just six touchdowns on the road, I'd have to run with him unless the weather takes a ridiculous turn in Cleveland. The Browns have allowed 127 points in their last three outings and are limping toward the finish line. The unheralded Chargers defense will force a couple turnovers to give Brees and company short fields. I'm looking for Brees and TE Antonio Gates to get back on track.
Can you offer one dark horse candidate who might be flying under the radar for a sneaky play in Week 15? – Marcy in Seattle
I suspect that the Eagles will jump out to an early lead, forcing the Cowboys to play catch-up. As a result, Vinny Testaverde makes for an intriguing play if your usual starter is either in a funk or possibly sidelined. In Week 10, he tossed for 254 yards and two scores. I expect him to hit those marks again.
That's it for now. Be sure to check Game Day Calls for all the late-breaking injury updates up to kickoff. And don't forget to get those lineups in on time given the three Saturday games. Good luck to all!