Must Start: The Top 15
1. Shaun Alexander @ MIN - He
was headed for a fairly pedestrian game by his standards until
he tacked on two scores in the wild and wooly fourth quarter of
Monday night's track meet. The final tally? 100+ total yards and
the aforementioned TDs. That's good enough to earn him the #1
slot again this week, especially since he faces a Minny D giving
up almost five yards per carry.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. TB
- Though they put the clamps on Vick and Co. last week, the Bucs
have actually been pretty average against the run this season
(4.2/carry and 123.3/game). That's all well and good when they're
facing average backs (read: Atlanta's). This week, they draw the
most explosive rock-toter in the league, fresh off a 130-yard,
two-TD day. Good enough for me.
3. Corey Dillon vs. CIN - He
was headed for a monster game last week until a gimpy thigh sent
him to the sidelines. He could have returned (and would have in
a more competitive game) which means you shouldn't worry about
him this Sunday. Unless you're the Bengals D, that is. Great RB
+ bad run defense + payback for seven long years spent in Cincy
= big day.
4. Edgerrin James @ HOU - He
hasn't scored in almost half his games but he's averaging almost
five yards a pop and over a c-note per tilt. This week, he draws
a Texans group that doesn't defend the run (or the pass) very
well. Come playoff time, you stick with your studs. He's definitely
one of them.
5. Julius Jones vs. NO - I'm
loath to rely on rookies when the playoffs roll around but only
a fool would sit Dallas' prized catch with the Saints coming to
town. If the matchup isn't enticing enough, consider that he's
AVERAGED 143 yards and almost two touchdowns per contest since
taking over the starting duties. That includes a game against
the Ravens. Translation? Start him.
6. Ahman Green vs. DET - The
Pack was out of it almost from the coin toss last week so it's
not surprising he managed only 11 carries and 37 yards. This week's
game will play out much differently, which means you can count
on Batman to get the ball 20-25 times for 100 yards and a score
or two. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and GUARANTEE a score for
you. Merry Christmas!
7. Willis McGahee vs. CLE -
After accounting for almost all of Buffalo's 28 points in Seattle
the week prior, McGahee was shut out in Miami. That's pretty amazing
when you consider the Bills racked up 42 points. I'm betting he
won't be forgotten this Sunday in a game the Bills should lead
from wire to wire. Expect the century mark and a TD or two against
Cleveland's atrocious run defense (139.4 yards/game).
8. Curtis Martin @ BAL - Chad
Pennington is back in the fold but he's not the reason the Jets
look like legit contenders this year. Curtis Martin is, along
with a stifling D that's yielded a mere 17 points in its last
combined. The matchup at Heinz Field has all
the makings of a 13-10 slugfest and there's a solid chance Martin
will be responsible for at least some of those points.
9. Reuben Droughns vs. MIA -
Predictably, he struggled to get much going against the vaunted
Chargers' defense last week. And yes
that's the first time
in a long time we've been able to use "vaunted" and
"Chargers" in the same sentence. Regardless, Droughns
managed to churn out 73 total yards and a touch in the driving
rainstorm, numbers he should easily surpass this weekend against
Miami's suddenly susceptible eleven.
10. Brian Westbrook @ WAS -
He only managed 38 yards on 12 carries against the Pack last week
and wasn't even close to being his team's leading rusher. Of course,
he also caught 11 passes (!) for 156 yards (!!) and three touchdowns
(!!!) I've never been a huge fan of third-down types trying to
play feature back but he (along with the next guy) are starting
to make a believer out of me
11. Michael Pittman @ SD - Like
Westbrook, Pittman is more of a threat in the passing game than
he is in the running game. That's a good thing since he'll be
matched up against, arguably, the league's best run defense in
San Diego this Sunday. He won't get you much on the ground but
he's a good bet to find the end zone, regardless. After all, he's
done so seven times in nine games.
12. Nick Goings vs. STL - Three
straight starts, three straight 100-yard games. Oh, and three
straight victories (actually, four). If you're looking for the
guy who can sneak you into the championship round, look no further.
He doesn't have ideal measureables but the only thing we're measuring
here is fantasy points. Suffice it to say he measures up
then some. Start him against a crappy Rams D.
13. Tiki Barber @ BAL - Tiki's
another of those versatile backs who augments solid rushing numbers
with solid receiving numbers. At least, he USED to do that, before
Eli Manning assumed the reins. If you wanna know why I generally
avoid rookie QBs, take a look at Barber's stock over the past
few weeks. Better look fast, though, 'cuz it may drop out of sight
in the near future.
14. Domanick Davis vs. IND -
He's scored six touchdowns in his last four contests, two of them
coming against the Colts in Indy (where he also carried the ball
a season-high 31 times). I don't like Houston's chances in this
one (who does?) but they'll likely score some points. Expect Dom
to be one of the scorers.
15. Larry Johnson @ TEN - Most
teams can't dig three-deep into their running back rotation and
find a gem. The Chiefs aren't most teams. They sport an elite
offensive line and three backs (Johnson included) with feature
back ability. I suspect he'll be featured somewhere else next
year but the next four games are all about showcasing his goods,
starting with a primetime looksy this Monday. Give him a look
if you're short-handed.
Grab A Helmet:
Fred Taylor vs. CHI - Jack Del
Rio is a good, young coach but he really needs to find a way to
get Mr. Taylor into the end zone more often. The former Gator
hasn't scored in six weeks, a stretch in which his team has won
just twice and (likely) dropped out of playoff contention. Bottom
line: you don't win in the NFL unless your meal ticket scores
touchdowns. It's time.
Chester Taylor vs. NYG - Despite
almost half as many carries, the other Taylor has managed to score
just as many touchdowns (two) as the aforementioned, more popular
one. That shouldn't come as too big a surprise since the Ravens
are all about defense and running. Expect them to employ a similar
strategy this weekend against a punchless Giants group.
Rudi Johnson @ NE - Nobody's
faced a tougher group of defenses than the Bengals this season
(Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore twice, NY Jets, Denver, and Washington),
which makes Johnson's 1105 rushing yards and seven scores all
the more exceptional. He draws yet another doozy this Sunday (the
Pats) and will need another solid effort to give Cincy a chance.
He'll get it thanks to a suddenly explosive passing attack that
must be accounted for.
Kevin Jones @ GB - I was thisclose
to recommending him last week (as those who e-mailed me discovered)
but "shoulda" and "woulda" are a far cry from
"did." I won't make the same mistake this week as he
appears to have turned the corner in this, his rookie campaign.
Don't expect 196 yards again but 80-100 and another score seems
possible, if not probable.
Onterrio Smith vs. SEA - He
finally appears to have the job to himself (about time) but that
doesn't necessarily mean he'll start putting up top 15 numbers.
The problem? Coach Tice REFUSES to run the ball near the goal
line. If you can live with 100-120 total yards and you need a
third back, give him a look. At the very least, he has the ability
to break a big one on any given play.
Grab A Gatorade:
Kevan Barlow @ ARI - I'm betting
many of you spent a second-round (or higher) pick on this guy.
If you haven't already cut your losses
what are you
waiting for? He isn't an elite running back. Period.
Chris Brown vs. KC - He, on
the other hand, actually IS an elite running back. I should say
he WOULD be if he ever played a full game
or A game. For
seemingly the eighth week in a row, he's listed as questionable
on the injury report. Last time I'm gonna say this: told you so.
Any Oakland RB @ ATL - Three
backs carried the ball for Oakland last week. Total output? Thirty
yards on ten carries and no touchdowns. Thirty split three ways
ah, forget it.
Thomas Jones or Anthony Thomas @ JAX
- These two split the carries right down the middle last week
(15 apiece) and managed to top the century mark in the combined
effort. That's good for Chicago but not so good for you if you're
relying on either to fill your #2 or flex spot. Not that you were
doing that, were you? Find someone else.
William Green @ BUF - He was
so inept last week (12 carries for 15 yards) that the Browns actually
turned to Adimchinobe Echemandu at one point. Cool handle aside,
you don't want guys who have more syllables in their name than
career carries. Stay away from anything Cleveland this week and,
for that matter, the rest of the year.
Deuce McAllister @ DAL - I don't
care if the Saints were trailing by 50. Deuce should get the ball
more than eight (!) times in a game. In fact, he should get that
many just for showing up and playing for that crappy team every
week. As it stands, he's on pace to carry the ball a full 140
times fewer than he did last year. Even accounting for two games
lost to injury, that's an astonishing drop-off, and more than
enough reason to sit him down.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends