by Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky
The Final Countdown
Bill: OK, rotoheads. It's Week 16. Championship Week. Well, except for leagues who have their championship in Week 15 -- our bad. Or Week 17, in which case, your commissioner's bad. Then there are those leagues that play 17 weeks of regular season with no playoffs... Anyway, we want to congratulate those of you who have a meaningful game this week. You're one step away from money, bragging rights, or, in one league we know, a life-sized cardboard cutout of David Hasselhoff in Baywatch regalia. (No, sadly, not a Fathead.) With that in mind, I felt like an important exercise to start Scramble off with this week would be an analysis of the key matchups for next week -- a sort of starting point for the comments thread discussion.
Now, keep in mind that these suggestions are not infallible; they're my best estimation of what will happen based upon the history of previous weeks and other contextual aspects. That being said, anything is possible -- even DeShaun Foster finds a hole once in a while. Sorry, blind squirrels out there. Consider an "excellent" matchup to be one where you might expect a player to perform well, say, 70-75% of the time. Is that advantage worth playing a Mike Furrey-type over Marvin Harrison? Of course not -- use your better judgment and the specific rules of your league to help determine whether a marginal player is really a likely better play than a star -- but if it comes down to playing one marginal player or one star over another, you might want to consider the recommendations below.
Please also note that this column was written on Monday and so, as a result, the numbers quoted below are through the first 14 weeks of the season.
Thursday: Minnesota at Green Bay (-5)
I would first recommend that you actually have your lineup prepared for Thursday. You do not want to be the guy who leaves a player from one of these teams on your bench, not realizing you needed to have him in the lineup already, only to see him score a couple touchdowns. There's very few things more comforting in a playoff battle than going into Sunday already up 30 points.
I'll get to the line on this game later, but this is a game you can expect to be reasonably close. If the rumors are true and Tarvaris Jackson is actually starting at quarterback for the Vikings, you'd be hard-pressed to justify playing him in his first NFL start at Lambeau (where the forecast calls for freezing rain, by the way). The Packers defense is no great shakes, but there are simply too many other options out there for Jackson to be a smart play. The Vikings will probably rely more on their running attack for offense, and if they take a lead, they'll be running the ball to kill the clock in the second half. While Chester Taylor had a poor week last week against the abysmal Jets rush defense, another week removed from his rib injury should provide him with more of a basis for selection on your team's roster. He had 75 yards on 20 carries in the Vikings' loss to Green Bay earlier in the season. Also worth noting are Green Bay's struggles in defending throws to the running back, where they rank 27th in defensive DVOA. That might be a spot for Mewelde Moore to step in; Moore had five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown last week, and has seen his role in the passing attack increase as the season's gone on. Again, just to clarify: Moore shouldn't be replacing Larry Johnson in your lineup, but if you're short a running back due to injury or need someone at a Flex position in a league where receptions count for points, Moore might be an intelligent pickup.
Green Bay, meanwhile, will be up against it with that excellent Vikings rush defense staring them in the face. Proverbially. Actually, I don't even want to talk about staring right now. That makes Ahman Green or any other Packers RB a difficult decision this week -- Green had 55 yards on 22 carries the first time around against Minnesota, and he's no longer enough of a receiving threat to worry the Vikings on that front, either. Avoid him this week unless you have no other option. Minnesota's backfield isn't of the same class as the Brothers Williams -- they're 17th against #1 WRs, a figure owing something to the six-catch, 191-yard day that Donald Driver stuck on them last time. While you can't expect Driver to have as good of a day this time around, he's still a very good play this week. To summarize:
Very Good Idea: Donald Driver
Pretty Good Idea: Chester Taylor
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Mewelde Moore
Likely to Disappoint: n/a
Avoid: Ahman Green, Tarvaris Jackson
Saturday: Kansas City at Oakland (+6.5)
I would say that I could see Oakland giving up on Art Shell, but to give up on someone, I think you actually have to believe in them at some point. It's hard to find a time that this team actually did. Now, Rob Ryan, they have all the faith in the world in.
While most everyone (and certainly our FO readership) has picked up on the Oakland defense and its quality this year, what's worth noting is that it's not a defense that's created equally. Its pass defense is 4th according to DVOA; against the run, though, Oakland is 17th. That's not bad, but it's nothing that should keep you from thinking, even for a second, about benching Larry Johnson this week. Trent Green, on the other hand, will have a difficult matchup here. Oakland is #1 in the league against #1 WRs and #5 against tight ends, leaving Green with throws to, well, Larry Johnson, as Oakland's 30th against throws to running backs. Green's not a good play this week unless pretty much absolutely necessary, and while it's hard to bench Eddie Kennison, he had two catches for 38 yards when these teams first met (also the game Green returned from his injury). On the other hand, though, Tony Gonzalez missed that game with injury, which undoubtedly meant more safety help with Kennison. Eddie isn't a player to avoid this week, but if you have an excellent matchup somewhere else, he's one of the bigger names you might actually consider benching.
As for Oakland's offense, if you made it to the Championship Game with a member of the Raiders, you need to stop playing against preschool students. While Kansas City has the 26th ranked pass defense in the league, could you really feel comfortable playing Aaron Brooks in a Championship Game? Really? You're telling me you wouldn't check StatTracker and cringe? Every time a Game Break came on and you saw the Kansas City and Oakland helmets, you wouldn't shield your eyes? Just don't put yourself through that. With Randy Moss hobbled by an ankle sprain, it's hard to find a good play for this Oakland offense. If anyone, you could form some sort of a justification for playing Ronald Curry, who has 17 catches over the last two weeks and had five for 85 yards against the Chiefs last time they played. And, if your league awards bonuses for crippling knee injuries, Curry goes from interesting waiver-wire fodder to must-have. With the Raiders likely to be playing from behind, like most every week, Justin Fargas isn't much of a play.
Very Good Idea: Larry Johnson. Duh.
Pretty Good Idea: n/a
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Ronald Curry
Likely to Disappoint: Eddie Kennison
Avoid: Trent Green, Aaron Brooks, Justin Fargas
Tennessee at Buffalo (-4.5)
Speaking of defenses not created equal, Buffalo's sixth-ranked pass defense (led by the resurgence of Nate Clements) could sure use some help from the 28th best rush defense in football. In this case, one detracts from the other -- while Buffalo's small defensive line is great when rushing the passer (fourth best Adjusted Sack Rate in football), they get annihilated when teams run it right at them (26th in Power Rushing and 28th in Stuffs). What does this mean? Strangely enough, Travis Henry's a pretty good play this week. Watch out to see what the local papers say about his ankle -- if he's close to 100%, he could very easily have a big day against this Buffalo defense.
Vince Young? It's hard to say. I'm inclined to think that Buffalo's quick defensive front would be able to somewhat neutralize his rushing potential, but if you watch the guy run, it's hard to think that Lawrence Taylor in Tecmo Bowl would be able to slow him down. Buffalo has only played one scrambling quarterback all season -- no, Daunte Culpepper in Week 2 does not count -- and that's David Garrard, who ran five times for 28 yards. It's not enough to tip the scales in Young's favor, especially considering the quality of the Bills pass defense.
Buffalo's offense will be up against a Tennessee defense that's improving as the season goes on (they're 15th in weighted defensive DVOA, but only 21st overall). Tennessee has struggled with slot receivers this year, so Buffalo might be able to sneak a long throw to Roscoe Parrish, assuming he doesn't try and run 15 yards backwards for the second week in a row. Beyond that, this is a pretty standard matchup for the Buffalo offense -- if you'd normally play a member of their lineup and don't feel too confident about any of your other options, go ahead and play the one you've got.
Very Good Idea: Travis Henry (if healthy)
Pretty Good Idea: n/a
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Roscoe Parrish
Likely to Disappoint: Vince Young
New Orleans at New York Giants (-3)
I can tell you, first and foremost, that I am dreading this matchup as a Giants fan. I don't think Joe Horn (if he even plays) will have another Cell Phone-level game, but Big Blue's defensive backfield simply isn't very good. The Giants rank a terrible 30th defending tight ends, which might make Billy Miller effective waiver wire fodder. He caught three passes last week, and Mark Campbell is still questionable. I can't promise he's going to have a giant game, but if you're scraping the barrel, he might be the tastiest bit left.
Reggie Bush doesn't have the best matchup this week. The Giants are seventh in the league against passes to running backs, and they do have the eighth best rush defense in the league. They even have good punt coverage. Bush will get touches, but he might only have 50-70 yards from scrimmage -- there are better running backs to play this week.
Like, say, Tiki Barber. The Saints defense is pretty average against the run (20th) and pass (22nd), and while they're #1 in defending passes to running backs (probably from practicing against Bush), Barber will find creases in the running game against a team that really, really struggles with the big play. The Saints are 30th in the league in giving up runs of 10 yards or more. On the other hand, they're fourth in defending against power runs and 3rd in stuffing running backs, which might not bode well for using Brandon Jacobs.
Plaxico Burress also profiles as a strong play this week, with the Saints being 31st in the league against #1 wide receivers.
Very Good Idea: Plaxico Burress, Drew Brees
Pretty Good Idea: Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Billy Miller
Likely to Disappoint: Reggie Bush
Avoid: Brandon Jacobs
Carolina at Atlanta (-6)
If DeAngelo Hall was really the best cover corner in the league, would Terrell Owens have spit in his face? Probably not. You would have figured Michael Irvin -- who I'm convinced is feeding TO ideas from the booth -- might have had TO genuflect and/or pick a fight with Hall.
Ignoring the hype, Atlanta's got the worst pass defense in the league against #1 wideouts and the third worst against #2 wideouts. Do you know what that means? I don't care how bad Chris Weinke is, Steve Smith is a must-play and Keyshawn Johnson can be expected to produce. He only had four catches for 40 yards in Week 1, but Smith was out. Of course, the likely success of those two receivers pushes Weinke into the intriguing fodder category -- I would bet he has a better day next week than Trent Green.
Carolina has only run the ball 29 times as a team over the last two weeks. Granted, they've been behind in those games, and Atlanta's rush defense is 21st in the league, but I'd skip DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams this week.
Atlanta, on the other hand, will have to run the ball on the fourth-best run defense in football. Carolina's lost Mike Rucker to a torn ACL, but Rucker's more of a pass rusher at this point anyway. Atlanta ran for 252 yards on 47 carries in Week 1 against the Panthers, but they ran for 146 combined yards in the two teams' 2005 meetings. Let's split the difference -- Michael Vick isn't a particularly solid play, but Warrick Dunn probably is. A good idea regardless would be Alge Crumpler, who will be up against a Carolina defense that's been hard-pressed to stop tight ends (27th overall) this season.
Very Good Idea: Steve Smith, Alge Crumpler
Pretty Good Idea: Keyshawn Johnson, Warrick Dunn
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Chris Weinke
Likely to Disappoint: Michael Vick, DeShaun Foster
Avoid: DeAngelo Williams
Washington at St. Louis (-2.5)
No offense to Redskins or Rams fans, but if it weren't for fantasy considerations, you might just prefer to have Madden simulate this game for you. With that in mind, there are some real fine matchups to take advantage of this week.
On Washington's side, Ladell Betts continues to be the latest argument for running back fungibility. He's become a steady week-to-week performer, with four consecutive 100-yard games, and playing the St. Louis defense will do little to dissuade him from making it five. He's an excellent play this week.
In fact, it's pretty hard to find a player in Washington's lineup that would be a bad play against the Rams, who are miserable across the board defensively. 29th against the pass, 29th against the run, 32nd in weighted DVOA, and ranging from 21st to 26th defending against any types of receivers. I'm pretty sure they couldn't stop a streaker at this point; of course, if Al Saunders saw one come onto the field, he'd probably insist on drawing up a screen pass for him. While Jason Campbell has been no great shakes so far, this could very well be his first breakout game of the season. Upgrade all your Redskins players accordingly; just remember that suck versus suck can be very random and painful, and with that in mind, Antwaan Randle El is never a good idea.
Washington's defense is a little different; they have a solid rush defense, but offer up the worst pass defense in football to counteract that. They have the worst defense against throws to the running back, which bodes very well for Steven Jackson, while both Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are good ideas.
Very Good Idea: Ladell Betts, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt, Santana Moss
Pretty Good Idea: Chris Cooley, Jason Campbell, Isaac Bruce
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: n/a
Avoid: The Under.
Indianapolis at Houston (+9.5)
Last week, I said in an e-mail to one of our readers that David Carr might be a solid play because the Texans would probiably be behind, and the Patriots struggle against underneath receivers. Well, I was half right. In much the same vein, the Texans are going to be behind in this game. Does that make Carr a good play? It's hard to say. He had a good day at Indianapolis in Week 2 -- 219 yards and three touchdowns without an interception -- but his confidence is clearly shot at this point. There's a not-insignificant chance that he will get benched sometime during this game, and with that threat looming over Carr's head, you can't play him. There's just too much of a chance he'll end up 4-for-11 with 39 yards and an interception. You can, however, play Andre Johnson against the Colts' pass defense. Someone will throw it to him and he'll probably catch it.
Indianapolis' offense tends to be consistent against specific opponents if you go back and look at the numbers throughout the last several years. An example? Reggie Wayne's numbers against the Texans over the last three games: 6 catches for 135 yards, 9 catches for 89 yards, and 8 catches for 72 yards. Marvin Harrison? 7 for 127, 7 for 65, and 7 for 108. Sure, they tend to have good days against pretty much everyone, but you can be pretty sure that they're not going to have a sudden stinker. If you've got an Indianapolis player in your lineup, you don't need me to tell you to put him in.
Very Good Idea: Usual Indianapolis Suspects
Pretty Good Idea: Andre Johnson
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: n/a
Avoid: David Carr
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3)
Vegas will never, ever make Pittsburgh a home dog. A lot of this game would seemingly depend upon the health of Steve McNair, who should at least be given credit for coming up with a new injury for himself. I mean, it's hard work -- he's already had to resort to the spleen. A hole in the hand? It's even a nod to the season!
Assuming Kyle Boller gets the start, he would be smart to play the same way that McNair plays now, checking down as often as possible, not giving up field position, and letting his defense win games. I promise I won't use the m word. If that's how he plays, he's not a particularly appetizing start against the Pittsburgh defense. Neither is Jamal Lewis, despite his good showing last week. Going from the 24th ranked rush defense in football to the third won't bode well. Keep him on your bench unless a line of 22 carries for 47 yards and (if he's lucky) a plunge for a touchdown is better than your backup options. Pittsburgh has been really bad against #1 and #2 WRs (30th and 29th, respectively), which could bode well for Mark Clayton to have a big catch or two.
Of course, as good as Pittsburgh's defense is, Baltimore's is that much better. They have the best Adjusted Sack Rate in all of football, and remember what they did to Ben Roethlisberger in Week 12. He threw for 214 yards with two interceptions and nine sacks. He won't be that bad this week, but keep him out of your lineup if you have a better option available -- like, say, Jason Campbell. I would say to downgrade the rest of your Steelers players based upon the quality of the defense, but there are mitigating factors here. This game will be close, so Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport will see quite a few touches; on the other hand, if Baltimore does have a weakness, it's that they're 16th versus #1 wideouts. Another week removed from arthroscopic surgery on his knee, Hines Ward should have more explosiveness and he could be the Steelers best offensive weapon this week.
Very Good Idea: n/a
Pretty Good Idea: Hines Ward, Mark Clayton
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: Kyle Boller, Ben Roethlisberger, Jamal Lewis
Tampa Bay at Cleveland (-3)
Oh yeah. Here's a game that you'd definitely let Madden simulate. Take me to the rookie scouting! Let me see if the fine denizens of Salt Lake City have raised their interest level in an NFL team above a 13! Maybe I can build the Goalposts of Light!
OK, so maybe this isn't the most exciting game, but there is fantasy potential here. First and foremost, he's already an automatic, but make sure Kellen Winslow is in your lineup. Tampa Bay is 28th against the pass and 29th against tight ends this season. They're also 27th against #1 WRs, which could hold some interest for Braylon Edwards owners. He's a good start this week as a #3 WR or Flex guy. As for Derek Anderson? Not to be confused with my former roommate and All-American thrower for Northeastern, the football DA was pretty effective against Baltimore, of all teams, last week. Considering he's playing Tampa this week ... Well, if you would ever consider playing Derek Anderson as your starting quarterback in a fantasy football Championship Game, these would be the circumstances. That's all I'm saying. If Charlie Frye's healthy enough to start, I'd hold him out for the same reason I'd leave David Carr out this week: if Frye looks hurt or starts off poorly, Anderson will come in, and you'll be out of luck. If Anderson is named the starter, Frye won't get on the field.
Tampa Bay is fortunate in that they're playing a Cleveland defense that is wearing down as the season goes along. While they're ranked 15th in overall defensive DVOA, they're 23rd in the weighted category. Some of that has to do with the struggles of Leigh Bodden after returning from injury and the other injuries around the defensive backfield, but the Buccaneers rushing attack is the more likely threat versus the Browns' 24th ranked rush defense. Sure, that might just be because the quarterback was Bruce Gradkowski, but long-suffering Cadillac Williams owners -- and if you got to the finals with Cadillac, good job -- could finally see a big day out of Carnell this week. Stick him in there.
Very Good Idea: Kellen Winslow
Pretty Good Idea: Cadillac Williams, Braylon Edwards
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Derek Anderson
Likely to Disappoint: n/a
Avoid: Bruce Gradkowski
Chicago at Detroit (+4.5)
Oh, I really hope Ian doesn't bet that line. Sure, Chicago didn't look very good last week, but under a score against the Lions? Wow.
If you have Roy Williams, well, you may still have hope. Chicago's ranked 26th against #1 WRs ... and no lower than fourth against anyone else. Remember Steve Smith in the playoffs last year? Keep Williams in your lineup, but everyone else Detroit has, including Jon Kitna, should be out. With the Lions likely to be behind, Kitna may get a lot of attempts, but the possibility of multiple interceptions is too high to justify the play. Without getting penalized for said interceptions, Williams remains a good play. When Chicago beat Detroit 31-7 in Week 2, Williams still managed 6 catches for 71 yards.
Chicago, on the other hand, gets to play against the worst defense in football. Detroit is pretty much the inverse of the Bears; they are fourth against #1 WRs (poor, poor Dre Bly), but no higher than 28th against any other receivers. Adjust accordingly. Look for a big game out of Thomas Jones, whose strained side shouldn't bother him. Furthermore, with the Bears likely to be ahead by a couple of scores and running the ball accordingly, Cedric Benson can expect a workload towards the higher end of his norms: 13-16 carries, with a touchdown likely. Hey, he's playing the Lions. Everyone gets to score.
Oh, and by the way? Rex Grossman's QB rating against the Lions the first time around was 148.0. Stick him in there.
Very Good Idea: Thomas Jones, Rex Grossman
Pretty Good Idea: Cedric Benson, Roy Williams
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: Muhsin Muhammad
Avoid: Lions not named Roy Williams
New England at Jacksonville (-3)
Oh right. I knew I'd get in trouble doing this column somewhere. Allow me to be entirely honest: I have no idea. Overall, Jacksonville's defense has been pretty good and they've been real effective running the ball. They've been most effective running to the left side and up the middle, where the Patriots have been equally as effective in stopping the run. What does that mean? I have no idea. There'll probably be a new Moon on Saturday night going into Sunday. That's equally as relevant. What can you do with any game involving the Jaguars at this point? Just play your players if you have to and if you have a player you're even slightly more comfortable with, go with him. Unless you get credit in your league for just winning. Then go with David Garrard. And I think I just invented a fantasy league for next season where you get points for your quarterback throwing for less than five yards per attempt and you're docked fifteen points per interception.
Avoid: Logical thought about the Jaguars
Arizona at San Francisco (-4)
This game should be fun if nothing else. Frank Gore can't be benched, but the Cardinals' defensive weakness lies with the pass. They're 14th against the run and 25th in the air, struggling against all kinds of wide receivers. Would I start Antonio Bryant? Yes. Arnaz Battle? He has more catches than Bryant, and Arizona really struggles against #2 WRs, but ... I'm just not that brave. I wouldn't rush to get Vernon Davis in the lineup, as Arizona's pretty competent (15th) against tight ends. Eric Johnson's likely return won't help either person's cause to be a fantasy play.
Now, San Francisco's defense isn't very good yet; they're 27th against the pass and 30th against the run. Their corners are decent (18th against #1 WRs, 9th against #2 WRs), but they really struggle with tight ends and - hey - running backs! For the first time all season, a Football Outsiders writer is going to tell you Edgerrin James is a good fantasy play. Most of the Arizona offense is a good idea, actually -- this game is going to be a shootout.
Very Good Idea: Edgerrin James
Pretty Good Idea: Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Arnaz Battle
Likely to Disappoint: Frank Gore (but if you bench him, it's not my fault), Anquan Boldin
Avoid: Vernon Davis, Eric Johnson
Cincinnati at Denver (-3)
Jay Cutler is getting better as the weeks go on, but beating Arizona isn't exactly a sign of stardom. Cincinnati's not the interception machine they were last year, but they're still a team that's been effective at picking balls off over the last three seasons. Cutler's not a great play this week, even against a mediocre Bengals pass defense.
Having said that, a deep, deep sleeper play for the week? Brandon Marshall. He's becoming a larger part of the Broncos offense as the season goes on, he caught five passes last week, and he's up against a team that has real trouble (they're 28th) against #3+ WRs. I'd also look for the Broncos to get Tatum Bell involved in the passing game, where the Bengals also struggle (22nd) against running backs. If I were Mike Shanahan, I'd be designing my game plan away from the Bengals' corners and towards their depleted linebacking corps. Of course, I'm not a sexy genius.
Javon Walker's injury only means Marshall's more likely to see the ball.
Cincinnati's going to be up against a Denver defense that's about as average as average gets: 14th overall, 19th against the pass, 15th against the run. Their weakness? Throws to the tight end (21st) and running backs (29th). Unfortunately for Cincinnati, though, the loss of Chris Perry really limits their passing game out of the backfield to the occasional swing to Rudi Johnson. If Perry was healthy, he'd be a great play this week. Oh well.
Would I play Chad Johnson this week? It's a real difficult move. You know Champ Bailey will be on him as much as possible, and Denver's 2nd in the league against #1 WRs. Can you survive benching him and seeing him go for 140 yards on a gimpy Darrent Williams? Downgrade Johnson, but you'll have to have a really solid backup with a good matchup to take him out. Is he likely to disappoint? I'd say so. Then again, the last time he was up against Bailey was the famous Monday Night Football game where the OC left Bailey laying on the turf. I guess you could form a case either way, but I'd leave Johnson on my bench. Play T.J. Houshmandzadeh instead.
Very Good Idea: n/a
Pretty Good Idea: T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: Brandon Marshall
Likely to Disappoint: Chad Johnson
Avoid: Jay Cutler
San Diego at Seattle (+4.5)
I would've called this game out as a Super Bowl Preview before the season -- again, I would have been half-right. Everything I thought I knew about Seattle before the season started, at this point, I don't know anymore. I would say mean things, but most of the area has been without power for the better part of a week and I don't want the first thing they read after getting internet back to be me noting how Steve Hutchinson was probably worth that extra couple of million dollars. The more important thing is that you could always trust the Seattle crowd at Qwest Field to be worth a touchdown or so, and if a young quarterback was going there, Seattle would be a safe play; and then, Alex Smith and the 49ers rolled into town. There's a bug in my version of Madden where the game, very occasionally, will stop in-between plays and just show shots of players reacting over and over for hours without ever going to the next play. The only way to fix it is to reboot the system. It's very frustrating but amusing at the same time. I get the feeling that unless someone rebooted the Seahawks, they'd still be looking for the ball on that Alex Smith play fake.
So, then, let's not worry about what could've been but, instead, what is. Offensively, Seattle is 26th passing the ball and 27th running. San Diego's 11th and 16th at defending those things. What does that mean? Shaun Alexander is probably a good play. San Diego also really struggles with #1 WRs; they're 26th in the league. With Darrell Jackson out, that would seemingly benefit Deion Branch but, as Rotowire notes, D.J. Hackett actually had 13 passes in his direction last week. Hackett, who's second in receiving DVOA, is probably the best kept secret in your league. If he's available on the waiver wire, you are compelled to stick him in your lineup this week. Compelled. Here's my other wacky prediction of the week: D.J. Hackett has a better week than Chad Johnson.
On the other side of the ball, Seattle's 25th in the league defending the run. That means both LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner are good plays. If San Diego does lead by a comfortable margin, as could realistically be expected, Turner could see 10-12 carries. He's a decent play as a flex WR/RB.
Seattle's pass defense is 16th in the league, but San Diego won't need to worry about that when they'll be averaging six yards a pop on the ground.
Very Good Idea: LT, Shaun Alexander
Pretty Good Idea: n/a
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: D.J. Hackett, Michael Turner
Likely to Disappoint: Deion Branch
Philadelphia at Dallas (-7)
Finally, we can go back to trusting the numbers. What do they tell us? Philadelphia's a pretty solid team, even without Donovan McNabb and Jevon Kearse. Their weakness is their rush defense, 19th in the league, and something which, combined with the likely outcome of the game, makes Marion Barber an excellent play for the week. Why him over Julius Jones? Well, even if you don't factor in what MDS wrote in Every Play Counts this week, look at Jones' yardage on a week-by-week basis since Tony Romo came into the lineup: 30, 92, 73, 45, 79, 40, 24, 116 (mostly on a single 77 yard carry), 26. Barber? 29, 49, 45, 65, 35, 83, 76, -1, 69. Jones' yardage is better, definitely. Then, factor in that Barber's got 18 catches for 173 yards, while Jones only has eight for 132. Jones is still ahead, of course, but then you might look and see that while Jones has four touchdowns on the season, Barber's got 15. Jones is more likely to earn you four to six points this week, but Barber's more likely to earn you fourteen. If you feel confident that the rest of your lineup will earn a solid number of points, Barber's worth the risk.
Philadelphia has pretty solid numbers in the passing game -- 15th against #1 WRs, 19th against #2 WRs, but 5th against RBs and 9th against TEs -- so Tony Romo and his merry cast of characters should be downgraded slightly. Bill Parcells is going to run the ball this week and as the Cowboys should be ahead for most of the game, Romo might not have to do very much.
Dallas' defensive weaknesses are their performances versus slot receivers and running backs in the passing game. Brian Westbrook owners, this is your week. Westbrook's an absolute must-play. Jeff Garcia, on the other hand, I'd avoid. He's looked pretty good so far, but I'd be concerned about the pressure he'll face from Dallas.
Very Good Idea: Brian Westbrook, Marion Barber
Pretty Good Idea: Julius Jones
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: Tony Romo, Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens
New York Jets at Miami (-2)
Ronnie Brown owners get their presents twice on Christmas Day. His likely return during the Monday night game comes just in time to play the worst rush defense in football -- a run defense that is getting better, but allowed Brown 127 yards and a touchdown in Week 6. Playing at home this time, Brown's a very good player in an excellent matchup. If you don't hear a negative thing about his condition by Thursday, he's a must-start. He could put up big numbers even if he only gets 15 carries.
For the Jets, on the other hand, the Dolphins' pass defense has struggled to keep #1 WRs (21st) and #2 WRs (20th) in check, despite being 7th overall in pass defense. Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are good plays here, especially since there's a good chance the Jets will be behind in this game.
Very Good Idea: Ronnie Brown
Pretty Good Idea: Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery
Intriguing Waiver Wire Fodder: n/a
Likely to Disappoint: n/a
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Loser League All-Stars
QB: True story: when I was sent the Loser League spreadsheet this week with the worst performances, I e-mailed Aaron back and said, "You messed up Joey Harrington's numbers. He only has 20 yards passing." Aaron pointed me to the game page. Joey Harrington gets a -3 and is the Losingest Loser of the Week. Bring on Sir Cleo! And, believe it or not, David Carr wasn't very good this week. Throwing four interceptions when you're Chris Weinke against the Giants is one thing, but when you're throwing for 127 yards and no touchdowns in the process, it's probably Sage Rosenfels time. As for Philip Rivers, well, any quarterback can have a bad week. Everyone gets a 0 once in a while. Here's a question: if Rivers was eligible to be Rookie of the Year, should he be the favorite over Marques Colston? Or, alternately, would he even be the best rookie on his own offense?
RB: It's a sad week when no one earns a negative number out of the backfield. When no one even records an aught, though, you begin to wonder if there's some sort of anti-Loser League collusion going on. I don't want to point any fingers. The low score this week was a two! Thanks to Julius Jones for at least trying to suck. Runners-up were the usual suspects: Reuben Droughns, Cadillac Williams, Travis Henry, and a unusual suspect, Chester Taylor. If Droughns is out of the league next year, the Browns should have to wear a black patch with a 0 on their jerseys all year to signify the loss.
WR: Again, no negative numbers, no zeroes. Where are the two catches for nine yards and a fumble lines that make me love football? Instead, we have Marvin Harrison putting up a 26. Ugh. Four-way tie for first place this week with a point: Ernest Wilford, Dante Hall, Nate Burleson, and Antonio Bryant. One of these guys was immortalized in a weekly column, another had a Gatorade commercial, another will forever be associated with something that sounds like it came out of a video game, and one threw a sweaty jersey in Bill Parcells' mug. You pick your favorite.
K: Finally! Back to the direness I adore. Ryan Longwell's -1 is a simple line: one part successful extra point, one part missed field goal. It's not something you'd want to take home to your parents, no, but it's something to keep you going on a lonely night. He's got a way to go to catch the Mike Nugent Week 1 score, though. Right behind him are Olindo Mare and Sebastian Janikowski, both of whom did not step on the field outside of their lone kickoff and the post-game congratulatory handshakes. A conservative game plan, yes, but a sound one for ending up in Scramble.
Keep Choppin' Wood Award
This one is easy. This week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to David Garrard, who "just loses games." Vince Young may have won again, but all he did was the one thing Garrard couldn't -- he protected the ball. Not only did Garrard throw three interceptions and lose one fumble, three of those turnovers were returned directly for scores in a game where the Tennessee offense couldn't do a thing, turning a wild card favorite into a wild card long shot. Congratulations David Garrard, you're this week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award winner!
Back to the Drawing Board Bets
Ian: (0-3 last week, 17-25-3 overall)
Twice this season I've gone 3-0. I followed up both weeks with 0-3 performances. What was I thinking taking three double-digit favorites in a season like this? Lesson learned -- it's all underdogs this week.
Minnesota (+3.0) over GREEN BAY
It's the Tarvaris Jackson coming out party. The Vikings defense may give up a big play or two to Double-D, but should contain both Favre and the running game enough to let T-Jack lead them to victory.
Philadelphia (+7.0) over DALLAS
No way Philly doesn't put up a serious fight with a division title on the line. Garcia will have his ups and downs, but the Philly defense has their swagger back and should do a good job of frustrating Tony Romo into a few key mistakes. Maybe not enough to win, but certainly enough to make it a close game and cover.
Tennessee (+4.5) over BUFFALO
I'm riding Vince Young until he lets me down.
Bill: (1-2 last week, 25-19-1 overall)
Good news is that I've clinched victory over Ian for the season since Ian will be on vacation the next two weeks. Bad news is [the person who I fondly spoke of quite frequently earlier in the season] has officially jinxed me.
Chicago (-4.5) over DETROIT
Are you kidding me? Really?
CLEVELAND (-3) over Tampa Bay
What's the point of starting a bad rookie with no confidence and letting him know before the start that he's on a short leash? Cleveland jumps out early and never looks back.
Baltimore (+3) over PITTSBURGH
Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens.
Join us next week for the regular season's final Scramble during the equivalent of the NFL's Reading Week: Week 17! While Ian will be on a cruise ship in an undisclosed location, I, young Bill Barnwell, will be joined by This Week In Quotes impresario Alex Carnevale. Till next time.