Earlier in the season, there wasn't a fantasy football owner on earth who would have dealt Torry Holt away for Chad Johnson. But it's amazing how quickly things can turn on a dime in this league. Not so long ago, Holt was heading into a Week 7 bye having scored in five straight games, including a hat trick in Week 6. At the time, he was fantasy's top wideout. Meanwhile, Chad Johnson spent his Week 7 going scoreless for his fourth consecutive contest – his first seven games also lacked a 100-yard performance. But, since then, 7-11 has averaged 137 receiving yards and has scored six touchdowns in five games. Holt, on the other hand, has averaged just 45 receiving yards and has failed to score in the past five games. As the fantasy playoffs come into view, just a reminder not to get too comfortable. Winds of change can turn a juggernaut into a Pinto in a hurry, making it necessary for owners to give their rosters a complete head-to-toe check-up each and every week. Here's a diagnostics report of what went down in Week 12:
Week 12 Update: Need-to-know info from the past few days
The Jay Cutler era has begun. After losing back-to-back games for the first time in two years, the Broncos plan to hand over the reigns of the offense to the rookie from Vanderbilt, who will make his first start in Week 13 – a Sunday night nationally-televised tilt with the Seattle Seahawks. Cutler will be the last of April's first-round quarterbacks to get a starting shot, as Matt Leinart and Vince Young have already assumed control for their teams. "I think I could go out there and play and be efficient with this offense," Cutler said about the opportunity. Cutler, who dazzled in preseason play, takes over for Jake Plummer, he of the NFL's 29th-best QB Rating. Cutler's ability to throw the deep ball is a big reason the team is making the switch. The hope is that he can better utilize the home-run skills of WR Javon Walker and that that, in turn, will loosen things up for the running game to get back on track. Cutler was drafted as the quarterback of the future, and that future is now. With Seattle, Arizona, Cincinnati and San Francisco on the schedule in coming weeks, Cutler is deserving of a look in fantasy leagues – don't expect Denver to play it conservative with him. Unlike Leinart and Young, he inherits a winning team, and his arm, and legs, should have some impactful moments down the stretch.
There's so much to love about what LaDainian Tomlinson is doing right now. With two more touchdowns in Week 12, he has now found pay dirt 21 times in his past seven games, not to mention he threw his second TD pass of the season on Sunday (lending his arm to get Antonio Gates into the end zone for the first time in five games). Needing five more touchdowns to break Shaun Alexander's NFL single-season touchdown record from a year ago (28), expect Tomlinson to remain a heavily-emphasized red zone weapon. And with the Chargers likely to be fighting it out with Baltimore, New England and Indianapolis for crucial playoff seeding, there won't be much rest for this lightning bolt down the stretch. The cherry on top? Three of his final five opponents – Buffalo (Week 13); Seattle (Week 16); Arizona (Week 17) rank among the top 13 most generous run defenses in fantasy – his next opponent, the Bills, are the most generous of all.
Week 12 provided a glimpse of likely newcomers to the earliest rounds of next year's fantasy drafts. Indianapolis' Joseph Addai rushed for a career-high 171 yards and scored four touchdowns on Sunday. He continues to show that his talent is on a completely different plane than that of backfield partner Dominic Rhodes. It's hard to imagine Addai being asked to split duties so generously next season, and with an increased workload, fantasy owners will be looking at a player whose value is on par with where Edgerrin James' was when he donned a Colts uniform – the pre-ACL injury James, that is … New York's giant running back Brandon Jacobs scored twice on Sunday, and he also rushed nine times for 54 yards. If Tiki Barber goes through with his retirement plans, Jacobs, who has scored 15 times in the 24 career games in which he's handled a carry, would likely be headed for a major workload increase. If he becomes the Giants' featured back next season, his power game and goal-line prowess make him worthy of first-round consideration … While Jacksonville's platoon of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew has worked wonders for both backs, Taylor may not get the same consideration here next season. Jones-Drew, who picked up 135 yards and a TD on 13 touches in Week 12, has the Oompa Loompa (the one nickname of my colleague Brad Evans that I actually have taken a liking too) build to withstand a featured-back workload. If Greg Jones returns healthy from his ACL injury, Jones-Drew could takeover in Jacksonville, with Taylor moving on. We'll have to see how it plays out, but if Jones-Drew's playing time is significantly boosted next season, his lightning quicks could be sought after as early as the second round in '07 drafts.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues
QB – Matt Leinart, Ari
WR Larry Fitzgerald looks healthier (hamstring) with each passing week, and he looked extremely vital on Sunday, hauling in 11 Leinart passes for 172 yards. With Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin at full strength, Leinart again has the opportunity to work with arguably the best receiving tandem in the league – for the record, Boldin had nine catches for 140 yards and a TD in Sunday's loss at Minnesota. Despite the fact that the team still can't run the ball effectively, Leinart has a schedule that should offer some value to fantasy owners looking for QB help. The 75 percent available Leinart faces division foes St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco in three of the next four games, and each of those defenses rank among the 20 most generous in fantasy for quarterbacks. Leinart is averaging 244 passing yards in his seven starts, including a 405-yard performance on Sunday. He does have nine interceptions, but those three opponents mentioned have combined for just 26 picks in 32 games.
RB – Sammy Morris, Mia
A broken left hand suffered on Thanksgiving at Detroit has landed Miami running back Ronnie Brown on the sidelines for Week 13, and possibly longer. With Brown out, Morris showed off his power, and fresh legs, to the tune of 91 rushing yards on 12 carries against the Lions. He had a couple runs in Week 12 that were highlight-clip worthy, breaking tackles and showing strong bursts of speed and power. As of this past Saturday, he was 99.98 percent available in Yahoo! leagues. His next two opponents – Jacksonville and New England – aren't too enticing for fantasy purposes. But, if he is still filling in for Brown beyond that, he could be one of those surprise difference-makers in the fantasy playoffs as he'll face the Downy-soft run defenses of Buffalo and the New York Jets in Week 15 and Week 16, respectively. Oh, and if you use Week 17, you'll love that matchup with Indianapolis, too. Heck, with that schedule, Ronnie Brown owners better hope beyond all hope that Brown can return at least in two weeks, especially if Morris wasn't handcuffed.
WR – Marcus Robinson, Min
Robinson was targeted 11 times on Sunday, catching seven passes for 82 yards and a score. He now has four touchdowns in seven games played – injuries have kept him out of the others. In his past five games, he's had a combined 70-plus receiving yards and a TD in three of those games. At 92 percent available in Yahoo! leagues, Robinson represents a tall red zone target that can offer some help down the stretch – just not in Week 13 at Chicago. Once the Bears are out of the way, Robinson follows up with Detroit in Week 14. And then, in Week 16, he has another opportune game at Green Bay. Robinson has averaged a touchdown per every 6.9 catches in his career. He's likely good for a couple more scores to close out the season.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Marty Booker, Mia, WR – Booker had 115 receiving yards and scored twice on Thanksgiving Day, giving him 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in three of his past five games.
Bernard Berrian, Chi, WR – Berrian was targeted deep down field repeatedly on Sunday night at New England. Despite a recent rib injury, he finished with 104 yards on five catches.
Jason Campbell, Was, QB – His yardage hasn't been anything to write home about, but Campbell does have two touchdown passes in each of his two career starts.
Tony Romo, Dal, QB – Heading into Week 12, Romo had been very good since taking over for Drew Bledsoe at QB in Dallas. On Sunday, he was great. With 306 passing yards and five touchdown passes against Tampa Bay, Romo has now thrown nine TD passes to just one interception in his past four games – and he's thrown for 284-plus yards in three of those games.
Willis McGahee, Buf, RB – McGahee returned from a two-game absence (ribs) on Sunday, and rushed for two scores. It was his first two-TD game since his '04 rookie campaign.
Chad Pennington, NYJ, QB – Emerging from a tough stretch of his schedule, Pennington rebounded with 286 passing yards and a TD on Sunday against Houston. Pennington's schedule looks good for the next couple weeks with dates against Green Bay and Buffalo.
Jake Delhomme, Car, QB – While he's not in as dire straits as the other Jake quarterback, Delhomme has averaged just 187 passing yards and has thrown four touchdowns compared to five interceptions in his past four games.
Mike Vanderjagt, Dal, K – Vanderjagt won't be seeing much of that three-year, $5.4 million contract he signed with Dallas in the offseason. The Cowboys cut ties with the kicker on Monday and signed veteran Martin Gramatica.
Marvin Harrison, Ind, WR – He's capable of turning things around in a hurry, but it's worth mentioning that Harrison has finished under 40 receiving yards four times in his past seven games, and had just one catch for eight yards on Sunday.
Michael Vick, Atl, QB – His rushing numbers have kept his fantasy bottom line from bottoming out, but another loss on Sunday turned the Atlanta crowd hostile towards Mr. Mexico. Vick's reaction after the game to the boo birds was to offer up his version of the dirty bird, a one-finger salute to the Falcons' faithful.
Eli Manning, NYG, QB – On Sunday, Manning failed to take advantage of what had been a very generous Tennessee pass defense. Against the Titans, Manning finished with less than 200 passing yards for the sixth time in his past seven games. And his one touchdown pass was just his third in the past four games – seven interceptions in that span. Frankly, his "Aww, shucks" act is getting old, and it's no wonder that his teammates have failed to rally around him. His body language is self-defeating, and the New York media is going to eat him alive very soon if he doesn't grow an assertive personality in a hurry.