Must Start: The Top 15
1. Shaun Alexander v. STL –
In any other year, he’d be the shoo-in #1 option. As it
stands, he’s the next-best guy behind the all-world L.T.
Of course, Tomlinson’s watching on TV this weekend, meaning
Alexander vaults to the top, if only temporarily. Give him the
nod (duh) against the Rams’ leaky front seven, a group he
terrorized in Week 5 (119 yards and two scores).
2. Edgerrin James v. HOU –
He hasn’t produced fewer than 100 total yards in any game
this year and hasn’t been held out of the end zone since
Week 2. Still wondering why Peyton and the passing game have “failed”
to reproduce last year’s record-breaking totals? It’s
‘cuz they haven’t had to, people. Start him against
the Texans’ league-worst rushing defense (156.8 yards/game).
3. Steven Jackson @ SEA –
With Bulger and his top two targets on the shelf, Jackson put
the Rams on his back and carried them (literally) to two consecutive
victories. Now that they’ve returned, it would seem he might
suffer a reversal of fortunes. Don’t bet on it. Joe Vitt
knows his offense is most dangerous when balanced, a concept we
only wish Jackson’s real coach, the convalescing Coach Martz,
would have embraced more heartily while he was at the helm.
4. Tiki Barber v. MIN –
Atiim Kiambu (cool!) squares off against the woeful Vikings this
Sunday in a game that could go a long way toward telling us how
legit the Giants really are this season. On paper, it’s
a game they should dominate. In reality, it’s a potential
pitfall, the kind of game New York has tended to give away in
year’s past. They’ve beaten everyone they should have
beaten thus far and if they do it again this Sunday, they’ll
be heading into their toughest stretch with a head of steam.
5. Larry Johnson @ BUF –
He seemed like an odd choice when the Chefs made him a first-round
pick back in ’03. “Odd” becomes “prescient”
now that Priest is sidelined, perhaps permanently. There’s
never been any doubt about his ability and we now get to see what
an unfettered L.J. is capable of. I’m guessing a lot, for
the record, especially against Buffalo’s seriously lacking
run defense (150 per/game and five/carry).
6. Lamont Jordan v. DEN –
If Oakland has any hope of jumping back in the playoff hunt, they’ll
need a huge day from Jordan and the offense this Sunday. How huge?
I’m thinking 35 points huge…at least. Mark him down
for 100 yards (run and catch) and a score or two, though it won’t
7. Willis McGahee v. KC –
The Bills are a head-scratching 2 ½ point fave this weekend,
likely because the sharps think McGahee will run roughshod over
KC’s historically soft front seven. I do too, for the record,
but that doesn’t mean I’m laying the points and taking
the Bills. Expect 125 yards, a score, and a KC cover…if
you’re into that sorta thing, I mean.
8. Brian Westbrook v. DAL –
Now that _____ is outta the picture, Westbrook seems to be in
line for more touches, both in the running game and in the passing
game. Unfortunately, more touches means more attention, as he
painfully discovered last Sunday night against the ‘Skins
(17 rushes for 24 yards). Expect more production this Monday as
the Eagles play with boatloads of emotion and exact a measure
of revenge against the Cowboys.
9. Warrick Dunn v. GB –
Funny that the Eagles have never thought Westbrook capable of
a heavy load when the similarly statured (but considerably less
stocky) Dunn regularly gets 20-25 carries per outing. Guess the
Falcons aren’t worried about wearing the little guy out?
He’ll see plenty more carries this weekend against the crappy
Pack as Atlanta looks to keep pace with Carolina in the NFC South.
10. Stephen Davis v. NYJ –
Speaking of Carolina, nobody (not even L.T. or Alexander) scores
more TDs per touch than Stephen Davis. He’s only gone over
50 yards thrice this campaign but has also pushed it across the
goal line a mind-boggling eleven times already, four times in
his last two tilts. Give him a go against the Jets’ bottom
five rushing defense. You won’t be sorry.
11. Domanick Davis @ IND –
He was a last-minute scratch last Sunday, forcing me to start
Shawn Bryson in our “experts” league (thanks to a
Steven Jackson bye). Not surprisingly, I suffered my second defeat
of the season. Lucky for me, he’s back in the fold at Indy
this weekend…I think. I certainly won’t hesitate to
start him, even against Indy’s finally formidable bunch.
You shouldn’t, either.
12. Mike Anderson @ OAK –
Now that Priest is out, the Broncos possess the only legit committee
attack in the league. You probably can’t go wrong with Tatum
Bell either (see below), but if you only have room for one guy,
it should be Anderson. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in
two consecutive contests and has scored in his last three. Good
news for you and not so good news if you’re a Raiduhs fan.
13. Ronnie Brown v. NE –
The Fish are working on a little committee approach themselves
and though reviews have been mixed, it’s starting to take
shape. Unfortunately, they don’t score enough points to
make both Brown and Ricky good starts in the same week. That means
you hafta choose. I’ll take the less flaky, more consistent
option, thank you very much.
14. Samkon Gado @ ATL –
I recently rebuffed an owner hoping to offload Tony Fisher on
me, courageously boasting that I already owned the Pack’s
future meal ticket (Gado). If only I’d known how prophetic
I’d be. Fisher went down, ReShard Lee fumbled away his opportunity,
and the Cheese will now go with the former third-stringer from
tiny Liberty University. Give him a look if he’s still available.
Guys who can handle the rock 26 times a game don’t grow
15. Clinton Portis @ TB –
After a horrid Week 8 performance, Portis rebounded on Sunday
night, churning out 67 hard earned yards and a score against Philly’s
game front seven. The numbers aren’t likely to improve significantly
against Tampa’s considerably better bunch, but if he can
go for 50-75 more and punch one across, he’ll be worth a
play. Look for him to do exactly that.
Grab A Helmet:
Tatum Bell @ OAK – He’s
only carried the ball 80 times this season but that’s enough
carries to make his 7.0 average-per-rush total legit. How would
you like to be sitting at 2nd and three all afternoon? Clearly,
the Broncos and Mr. Plummer enjoy it, meaning Bell will continue
to be part of the rotation in Denver. Give him the start against
Oakland’s questionable group this Sunday.
Marion Barber III @ PHI –
It appears Julius Jones will return to action Monday night, making
Barber an iffy play. Then again, if there’s one thing we’ve
learned about the Tuna in all these years, it’s that guys
who help him win don’t sit. Marion III does that for the
Cowboys and will likely continue to see touches until he doesn’t.
If you’re missing your meal ticket in this, the final bye
week, give him a go.
Duce Staley v. CLE – When
did he become Jerome Bettis? Really! Am I the only one who noticed
Duce has gained approximately 100 pounds since he last roamed
the Curtain backfield? Guess it doesn’t matter if he still
produces, as he most certainly did at Lambeau last Sunday (15
carries for 76 yards and a score). It doesn’t look like
he’ll hafta share the rock this weekend, either, so go ahead
and start him.
Cedric Benson v. SF –
If Benson was hoping his coming-out party would be well attended,
he was definitely disappointed. By my (admittedly) unscientific
count, only nine people saw him rush for 79 yards on 14 carries
in Baton Rouge last Sunday. Oh, well. There should be plenty more
onlookers at Soldier Field this weekend when the former Longhorn
makes his home debut as the starting tailback.
Kevin Jones v. ARI – Is
this guy for real? Fifteen yards? Against Minnesota, for chrissakes???
I don’t know why I keep recommending him (call me stubborn)
but if he has any chance of avoiding the “biggest fantasy
bust of ’05” label, he’d better pick it up against
a Cardinals crew that was absolutely steamrolled by Shaun Alexander
and the ‘Hawks last weekend. Last chance, Mr. Jones. I’m
serious this time.
Grab A Gatorade:
Jamal Lewis @ JAX – If
Jones doesn’t run away with the honor, Lewis will almost
certainly capture the bust title himself. He’s now rushing
for a microscopic 54.5 yards per game (seven more than Jones,
by the way) and has only scored twice the entire season. Man,
if we wanted Kevan Barlow, we’d just…
Kevan Barlow @ CHI - …start
Kevan Barlow. No, that’s not a recommendation for those
of you who read this column in a non-linear fashion. It’s
actually an indictment. Not that you’d consider starting
Barlow coming off a ten-carry, four-yard performance against the
Giants. You wouldn’t, would you? Just checking.
Cadillac Williams v. WAS –
This tidbit straight from the Week 6 Report: “I've a sneaking
suspicion Mr. Williams might not be the fantasy monster he was
in the first three weeks.” I’m not always right, folks,
but I’m gonna take a little credit for predicting his swoon
roughly a month ago. No, the Griese injury hasn’t helped,
but great backs find a way to produce even when the supporting
cast isn’t as good. In other words, hold off on those rook
of the year votes.
Marcel Shipp @ DET – I
usually make this a package deal but with J.J. Arrington showing
some spark last Sunday, I thought it might be time to single out
the other Arizona back, the one Denny Green still calls his starter.
Shipp’s totals the past six games? 78 carries for 177 yards…or
roughly the same amount of yardage Shaun Alexander rushed for
LAST WEEK (on 55 fewer totes). Criminy.
Any Minnesota RB @ NYG –
Criminy, Part II. Mewelde Moore pulled up lame in last week’s
win over Detroit, opening the door for Michael Bennett to produce
and for Mike Tice to…well, do what Mike Tice does best (read:
drive us NUTS with his RB rotation). It’s back to the committee
approach in Minny, meaning you want to turn around and run the
other way. Now.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends