Fantasy Football playoffs are just weeks away, and now is the time to tighten up those rosters for the homestretch. Check out which players have great match-ups this week and the ones who may struggle with tougher opponents. As always, come back Sunday for Spike's breaking news update.
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Kyle Orton is officially out of the game and will be replaced by Chris Simms.
Reggie Bush is out.
Cedric Benson will have a reduced role today after missing a week of practice.
Steve Slaton will be the starting running back for the Houston Texans today.
Josh Cribbs will be in the line-up today.
Michael Turner is out with an injury.
Clinton Portis will not play.
Start – Last week, in perhaps the most comedic Thursday Night broadcast in years, Steve Young criticized the NFL network for putting such a craptastic game on national television when execs scheduled a Bears-49ers showdown with zero playoff implications, half a dozen interceptions, and 13 total fans. I mention this, not only because the ESPN vs. NFL “feud” has instantly become one of the best rivalries in the sport, but due to the fact that this week shouldn’t be much better. The Thursday night game (once again between two non-playoff teams) features the intrigue of a Jake Delhomme tell-all biography only with more poor choices and awkward mistakes. With Ronnie Brown out with an injury, Ricky Williams is a must-start against the Panthers’ 25th-ranked rush defense. He and a scorching hot DeAngelo Williams (over 100 total yards in each of his last five games) should control the ball for most the game. Williams is a little banged up, but should be good to go. Steve Smith should also have a nice day against the Dolphins' awful pass defense. Mushin Muhammad is also worth starting at the flex or third WR position after his season-high 91 yards last week.
Sit – Jake Delhomme may have had his best game of the season last Sunday (two whole touchdown passes), but isn’t worth putting much faith into again. Reports from Carolina still indicate that he is playing a lot like Jake Delhomme. Jonathan Stewart has had one good week, then one awful one three consecutive times and is due for a bust performance. Not to mention the fact that he is only receiving between 10-15 carries per game and is listed as questionable. On the other side of the field, Chad Henne has no help from a thin receiving core and has just two touchdown passes in his last four games. There is zero reason to start Henne or any of his receivers.
Start – Was anyone aware that the Washington Redskins had the number one pass defense in the NFL? Seriously, look it up. Sure, their $180 million rush defense is awful and should let Marion Barber run all over them, but it will be a difficult day for Tony Romo and Miles Austin. Give them both a start, but don’t expect huge days – just good ones. Jason Witten is always good for five receptions and fills the “big ugly white guy” flex position that many leagues have adopted. After rushing for over 100 yards against the Broncos, give Ladell Betts the start, as Clinton Portis is still suffering from the effects of a concussion.
Sit – What’s the opposite of being a “clutch quarterback?” Oh yeah, being Jason Campbell. He lives to choke in big games, and this one should be no exception. Along with Santana Moss, give Campbell a seat. In Dallas, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice simply aren’t getting the carries to justify a start at this point and with the way the Redskins secondary is playing, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton aren’t good bets either.
Start – Is there a less interesting event going on than this Browns-Lions game? Not just sports related, I mean – on this planet, in the next ten days is there anything with as little intrigue as a game between the laughing stock of 2008 vs. the embarrassment of 2009? This game is alarmingly awful, but should produce one or two decent performances. Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford should do enough damage against the NFL’s worst defense to make them worth starting in what could be a great 17-10 thriller.
Sit – How bad are the Cleveland Browns? They’re playing the league’s second worst defense and people are openly questioning whether or not they’ll score a single point. Nobody on this team has been fantasy relevant in weeks (including an injured Jamal Lewis) and won’t be till early 2012. Also sit Bryant Johnson – he hasn’t broken 50 yards since week 3.
Start – In a game that would have been amazing if it was 1997, this battle of historic powers should get Aaron Rodgers back on track. He’s been held under 245 yards just twice this year and will excel against that 49ers 29th-ranked pass defense. Donald Driver (eight straight games with at least 50 yards) and Greg Jennings should take advantage as well. Frank Gore (over 250 yards and three touchdowns in his last three starts) is the only answer San Francisco will have outside of Vernon Davis, who should bounce back this week.
Sit – Ryan Grant has become a nice fantasy player, but may struggle against a talented San Francisco rush defense that’s done a nice job holding star running backs in check. Alex Smith is cementing his spot as the 49ers starting quarterback, but is quickly becoming a fantasy backup. He and Michael Crabtree still don’t have the production to be fantasy starters. JerMichael Finley is still listed as questionable for the Packers.
Start – Oddly enough, the Chiefs are, in a very literal sense, the hotter of the two teams coming into this one thanks to their win over the Oakland Raiders (which is sort of like beating a school for the blind that's run by Al Davis). However, given the Steelers frustration after their 18-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, expect Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Rashard Mendenhall to come out swinging. Even Heath Miller should be good for six receptions against the league’s 27th-ranked defense. Chris Chambers (double digit fantasy points in his last two starts) is the only Chief worth considering.
Sit – Now that Dwayne Bowe is suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs (save the “Why are Kansas City and performance enhancing in the same sentence?” jokes), Matt Cassel should struggle even more. Jamaal Charles got a lot of yards during garbage time last week, but will not enjoy the same advantage against the Steelers. The score in this game is going to end with a zero.
Start – The Adrian Peterson show is starting to really kick into gear as the playoff race heats up, with the MVP hopeful amassing over 100 total yards in his last four games and three touchdowns over that span. Both he and Brett Favre (300 plus yards in two of his last three games) should bank big fantasy days against the Seahawks. His top target, Sidney Rice, is coming off of a 200-yard receiving day and has established himself as a top flight target. Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe have also continued to put up good numbers. On the other side of the ball, Matt Hasselbeck should lead a pass happy attack yet again (52 attempts last week) which is great news for TJ Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson owners. John Carlson has struggled lately, but has a favorable matchup against a weaker Vikings pass defense.
Sit – Julius Jones is doing his best to make sure he doesn’t get invited back to training camp next year, and will continue to do so against an intimidating Vikings rush defense if he even plays at all after being listed as questionable this week. Bernard Berrian has struggled to break 50 yards all season.
Start – Talk about two teams taking a late season nosedive. They’ve won a combined one game in their last eight attempts and have also been destroying the hopes and dreams of their fantasy owners in the process. Tony Gonzalez (17 receptions in his last three games) and has become extremely important now that Michael Turner is questionable for the game. Matt Ryan has the chance for a big week against a vulnerable Giants’ defense, so give him a chance to succeed, despite recent struggles. In New York, expect Eli Manning to finally bounce back against the Falcons’ 28th-ranked pass defense. Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks may all have big days, while Kevin Boss will be a key asset in the red zone, as evidenced by the touchdowns he’s scored in his last two games. Give Brandon Jacobs the start too. He’s beginning to see the bulk of the carries in New York.
Sit – Ahmad Bradshaw has become a fantasy afterthought of late and shouldn’t figure much into the equation on Sunday now that he’s floating around the injured list. He and whoever ends up starting in place of Turner (a still hurting Jerious Norwood or Jason Snelling) won’t break the 10 fantasy point mark. Roddy White (98 yards last week, is listed as questionable heading into the game but might play. Check back Sunday for his status, but right now it isn’t clear if he is going to play.)
Start – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked slightly less terrible lately, but still aren’t quite good enough to knock off the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees had a mediocre day against the Rams with just two touchdown passes, and should do at least the same in Tampa Bay. With Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey helping him through the air, while Pierre Thomas should contribute against Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked rush defense. Devery Henderson (double digit fantasy points in two straight games) is worth a start for deeper leagues. For the Buccaneers, Kellen Winslow has had two straight big fantasy days and will be the team’s top target this week if his questionable status gets lifted (check back Sunday for an update).
Sit – Even though Josh Freeman has established himself as the quarterback of the future, he may be suffering from the Mark Sanchez effect (hot start, before teams get film on him). And since New Orleans should jump out to an early lead, the Tampa Bay running game won’t get too many carries –effectively eliminating Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward (battling injuries) from contention. Antonio Bryant is likely out of the game with an injured knee. Lance Moore is listed as questionable. Reggie Bush will not play due to injury.
Start – The fact that fans in Buffalo are longing for the days of the four straight Super Bowl losses doesn’t bode well for their chances to have a big week. They’ve spent the last few days firing their coach, promoting the coordinator of the NFL’s 26th-best defense and developing a wildcat offense around their backup running back. If they found more than 30 minutes to put a game plan together for this one, it will be a miracle. Expect Maurice Jones-Drew to run all over the NFL’s worst rush defense, David Garrard (who has looked surprisingly decent lately) and Mike Sims-Walker (touchdowns in his last two games) to take advantage of the mess in upstate New York as well. Lee Evans (touchdowns in his last two games) is the only Bill worth starting, or being seen with in public.
Sit – As bad as the Bills’ defense has been, their offense hasn’t faired much better. Marshawn Lynch is struggling to break 50 yards every game, Fred Jackson is becoming a situational back, and the only winners in the Trent Edwards-Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterback battle are the opposing defenses. The only thing anybody is looking forward to in Buffalo is how badly fantasy-irrelevant WR Terrell Owens will explode by the end of the year. Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis may be the most inconsistent fantasy player at his position. He’s 50-50 on having a good week. Not worth the risk if you have a more steady threat at tight end.
Start – In the annual “Let’s see how many times the announcers will point out Baltimore vs. The Colts” game, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne come in with an emotional win under their belts and nearly nine straight weeks of solid fantasy performances. With the help of Joseph Adai (four touchdowns in his last two games - listed as probable) and tight end Dallas Clark, the Colts should have no problems against a banged up Ravens’ defense that didn’t prove much by shutting out the Cleveland Browns. Austin Collie (double digit fantasy points against the Patriots last week) and is also a nice option for deeper leagues or a third WR slot. Ray Rice will be the only answer the Ravens have for the Colts and will put his six straight 100-plus total yardage game streak on the line against a mediocre Colts rush defense. The Ravens top receiver Derrick Mason has put up nice numbers in three of his last four games, and will be targeted quite a few times as Baltimore plays catch up.
Sit – If Joe Flacco (one touchdown in his last three starts) couldn’t find the end zone against the Browns, why would this week be much different against the Colts? Along with the virtually non-existent Willis McGahee and Mark Clayton, take Flacco out of the line-up. Todd Heap has been underwhelming of late, and is still floating around the injured reserve at this point. Not good signs. Donald Brown touched the ball just five times last week and is still hurting from a back injury. Pierre Garcon (50 yards and a touchdown last week) is listed as questionable for the game.
Start – The St. Louis Rams will get a chance to watch the man they got rid of half a decade ago in order to start the Marc Bulger era come back to light them up when Kurt Warner returns to St. Louis. Last time Warner played in whatever that team is calling their dome these days, he put up 343 yards and three touchdowns - a performance he should replicate thanks to the increasingly impressive play of Larry Fitzgerald (three touchdowns in his last two games), Anquan Boldin (100 plus yards last week), and Steve Breaston (touchdowns in his last two games). Running backs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower also match up well against St. Louis’ 29th-ranked scoring defense. The only thing that could slow them down is Steven Jackson rushing for over 130 yards for the third straight game and controlling the clock. Also give Donnie Avery the nod (two touchdowns last week) against the Cardinals' extremely weak pass defense.
Sit – Marc Bulger is doing a nice job showing management that quarterback may not be the single most pressing need in St. Louis heading into the draft, but in the fantasy world he hasn’t put up good back-to-back performances all year. He looked good last week, but against the Cardinals pass rush this may be a mistake-laden day in Bulger-land. Tight end Daniel Fells has yet to catch more than three balls in a single game, but has been a nice bright spot for the Rams.
Start – Denver got a head start on their late season collapse after their third straight loss, thanks in large part to the declining play of their defense. Phillip Rivers should continue to put the Broncos playoff hopes in the rear view mirror and collect his third straight multiple touchdown game this week. His top target Vincent Jackson is coming off of a bad week, but should revert back to his consistent self. Along with Antonio Gates and what looked like the 2004 version of LaDanian Tomlinson last Sunday, the Chargers should put up at least three touchdowns. The Broncos’ two skilled players (that’s not a typo, I mean players with skill – not players at skill positions) Brandon Marshall (two straight games with 100-plus yards), and Knoshown Moreno (97 yards last Sunday) will be the only Broncos that factor into the equation. Be careful when starting Marshall, though. Last week despite being listed as questionable on the injured reserve, he played anyways and put up big numbers. This week he is once again listed as questionable, so check back Sunday to confirm his place in the starting line-up.
Sit – With Kyle Orton hurt, it’s unclear how effective the Broncos’ passing game will be against the Chargers' athletic secondary. Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Tony Sheffler, and company won’t have the opportunity to do much in this one. And with the success of Moreno, Correll Buckhalter (questionable) has essentially become a backup. Darren Sproles has not touched the ball more than 10 times since week 4, and with Tomlinson’s recent success he won’t factor much into this week’s game plan.
Start – With a banged-up rushing attack that now features a nomadic hatemonger, the Bengals are going to have to rely on their passing game. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco should be up to the challenge against one of the league’s worst scoring defenses. Laveranues Coles (two straight double digit fantasy point performances) is also a nice start for the third receiver slot.
Sit – The collection of running backs in the Oakland backfield has future fantasy potential, but not much this week against the Bengals 2nd-ranked rush defense. And with the surprisingly high profile move to start Bruce Gradkowski instead of JaMarcus Russell the passing game won’t have much going either. Even Zach Miller (one reception for nine yards last week) is a risky start in this one. Cedric Benson is listed as questionable, and with the “ease” of this game, he may not suit up in order to get healthy.
Start – The question on everyone’s minds heading into this important division showdown is “What was Bill Belichick thinking last week?” Seriously, every talk show is still debating the Sunday night game four days later. Think the coaching genius and his Hall of Fame quarterback don’t want to silence the critics? Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss (all of whom had monster days last week) will make a statement in this one. With Sammy Morris still questionable, expect Laurence Maroney (touchdowns in four straight games) to once again be the goal line back. Given the wide receiver injuries around the NFL it’s tough to not start Jerricho Cotchery or Braylon Edwards – but don’t expect huge days against the Patriots’ seventh-ranked pass defense. With recent fantasy behemoth Thomas Jones keeping New England in check, they may even be able to snag a rare Sanchez touchdown pass. Dustin Keller is also a start at tight end after two straight weeks of impressive production.
Sit – Speaking of Mark Sanchez, his early season rookie of the year campaign has come to a Ryan Leaf-style halt thanks to the 10-interception, five-touchdown run he’s working on. Give him a seat, along with Patriots’ tight end Benjamin Watson, who has multiple receptions just once in his last four starts.
Start – The Chicago Bears fans are finally starting to come back down to earth after an offseason of delusion usually reserved for the folks at Wrigley. After giving up huge days to Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner over the past month, it’s likely that Donovan McNabb (450 yards last Sunday) should use DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek to do the same. And now that Brian Westbrook is officially out of the game, expect LeSean McCoy to get 15-plus carries against the Bears 21st-ranked rush defense. Jeremy Maclin may be worth a number three start position, given his impressive play over the past couple games. In Chicago, Devin Hester has five straight double digit fantasy weeks, and along with Greg Olsen (12 receptions, over 150 yards, and three touchdowns in his last two starts) and Matt Forte (100 total yards in three straight weeks), he should have a better-than-average day.
Sit – Take away five interceptions, and Jay Cutler actually had a pretty decent game last week. Sure, he’s not exactly primed for a bounce back week against the Eagles’ top ten pass defense, but he’s starting to make fans forget about the first round picks they don’t have because of him. Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox remain “fantasy useless” with the exception of a good game once every two months.
Start – Oddly enough, this game might have some minor playoff implications. After three straight wins, and with Chris Johnson a threat to break 200 yards at any time, this Titans team may end up with nine wins. The only problem for Tennessee may be keeping the Texans out of the end zone. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will get to face one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses in this one, and should find their way onto the scoreboard a couple times (like they did against a similar Cardinals unit). Even Kevin Walter is a start in this favorable match-up.
Sit – Bud Adams, and everyone else in Nashville is excited to see Vince Young turning things around – but unfortunately his fantasy value just isn’t there yet. He and his receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and Justin Gage have had minimal outputs lately and are yet to prove they can become worth starting. And in Houston, Steve Slaton and Ryan Moats seemed to have formed an adorable little running back by committee that isn’t helping any of their owners.