Must Start: The Top 15
1. Larry Johnson v. CIN –
Every champion in every one of my leagues owned him, regardless
of format (dynasty, auction, etc.). Coincidence? I think not.
If you were brave enough to draft him early and are still playing
in Week 17, start clearing off the mantle. The Chefs might be
eliminated by game time Sunday but that isn’t gonna stop
L.J. from laying waste to a Cincy squad that will almost certainly
rest its starters.
2. Tiki Barber @ OAK –
The G-Men have wrapped up a playoff berth but not a home game
yet. That means they still need a “W” in Oakland this
Saturday. If you’ve seen Kid Bro spraying the ball around
lately, you know Tiki gives them the best chance of doing that.
Expect 100+ and a score or three against the uninspired (and highly
3. Carnell Williams v. NO –
If there was any doubt who your offensive rook of the year is,
there shouldn’t be any longer. The Caddy saved his best
stuff for the penultimate must-win against Atlanta, tallying 150
yards and the critical six-pointer in the final minute of regulation.
Expect more of the same this weekend (minus the eleventh hour
heroics) as the Bucs secure a playoff berth against the sorry
4. DeShaun Foster @ ATL –
Wanna know why the Falcons won’t be returning to the NFC
Championship this season? Look no further than that atrocious
run defense, the same group that ranked in the top 10 last season.
Foster has been merely ho-hum since his breakout performance against
them in Week 13 (180 total yards and two TDs) but should bounce
back this Sunday in a game the Panthers desperately need.
5. Julius Jones v. STL –
Where did THAT come from? Foster’s associates are still
trying to track down the slippery Jones, who racked up 194 yards
and two scores last weekend in the big Dallas win. Even more impressive?
He toted it 34 times, putting to rest concerns about his gimpy
ankle. Gotta like his chances of going nutso on the atrocious
Rams’ run D this Sunday night.
6. Clinton Portis @ PHI –
He averaged slightly over 100 total yards per game last season
(with seven TDs) and was widely considered a fantasy bust. He’s
doing virtually the same thing this season (with two more touchdowns)
and is back in everyone’s good graces. Fickle fantasy freaks
or a simple case of appreciation by association (Washington’s
probable playoff berth)? Bottom line: he’s one of the ten
best backs in the league and plays for a coach who loves to run
the football. Get him in there.
7. LaDainian Tomlinson v. DEN –
He’s one of the three best backs in the entire league but
has fallen out of favor lately, and even out of some folks’
lineups. I’ve never owned him so perhaps I’m just
envious, but I wouldn’t sit him down so long as he’s
healthy. Oh, and if you believe the game this Sunday means nothing,
consider that the Bolts can prevent KC (last week’s tormenters)
from making the playoffs with a win.
8. Willis McGahee @ NYJ –
Through his first eight games, he was averaging close to 99 yards
per contest. Since then, he’s averaging roughly half that
(barely 49 per). A tale of two halves, to say the least. His precipitous
decline to the contrary, McGahee managed 143 yards in the first
matchup with New York (a season best) and will want to go out
on a high note, especially with a potential contract extension
on the line. Expect a big day.
9. Rudi Johnson @ KC –
He’d probably be an iffy start if not for the fact his backup,
Chris Perry, is only marginally healthy right now. Somebody’s
gotta carry the rock for Cincy and there aren’t a whole
lot of other options besides Rudi. In fact, the Bengals only carry
four backs on their active roster and one of them (Nick Luchey)
might as well be a guard.
10. Fred Taylor v. TEN –
Taylor bounced back from a series of nagging injuries to tally
101 yards and a score on 22 carries last weekend. Now, the bad
news: the other three Jags’ rushing TDs were scored by seldom-used
LaBrandon Toefield. Talk about your poachers! You could have started
Toefield at RB and Mike Vrabel at WR in Week 16 and, more than
likely, walked away with a championship. Still think the NFL is
11. Ricky Williams @ NE –
How ‘bout the dreadlocked one coming out of nowhere to do
a reasonably awesome impression of his former self (26 carries,
172 yards, and a touch)? Not exactly unpredictable but I doubt
many of you anticipated such an explosion, especially since he
hadn’t topped the century mark all season. He likely gets
the nod again this weekend, meaning you want him in your lineup.
12. Tatum Bell @ SD –
The Broncos treat Bell like the Eagles treat their smallish backs,
limiting his touches for fear an extra load might get him hurt.
At least for one week, however, he’s the man. Though he’ll
likely share carries with Ron Dayne, he should get the bulk of
the work. I expect 20 totes and 100 yards, even against San Diego’s
rough front seven.
13. Frank Gore v. HOU –
Gore proved the last two weeks he’s capable of being a feature
back and might even have locked up the role by helping the Niners
upset the Rams last Sunday. The win likely takes San Fran out
of the Reggie Bush sweepstakes, meaning they’ll go with
the kid or the chronically underwhelming Kevan Barlow in ’06.
Any bets on who gets the job?
14. Vernand Morency @ SF –
Domanick who? Doesn’t seem to matter who fills in for the
injured Davis these days. Both Wells and Vernand Morency have
looked comfortable in the backfield. Both Davis and Wells have
been put on IR meaning Morency will start with Tony Holling backing
15. Jamal Lewis @ CLE –
Project Lewis’ career totals v. Cleveland out to 16 games
and you’re looking at a 2,200-yard season. Think he likes
squaring off against the Brownies? It’s been the Kyle Boller
show the last two weeks but I’m thinking that might be an
aberration. Expect Lewis to carry more of the load in the season-concluding
tilt this Sunday.
Grab A Helmet:
Shaun Alexander @ GB –
The ‘Hawks have nothing left to play for but Alexander certainly
does; one more TD and he’s in the record books. Though he’ll
definitely play part-time, he’s almost certain to notch
that history-making score against the Pack before he sits. Give
him the start and hope he turns the trick later rather than sooner.
Willie Parker v. DET –
Parker and the Steelers need a “W” to sew up a berth
and though that seems like a foregone conclusion at this point
(a matchup against the awful Lions), there’s no such thing
as a sure thing in the NFL. That means the conservative Coach
Cowher plays it like any other game, giving Parker and his huskier
running mates most of the work. I think he racks up 75-100 yards
and a score this Sunday, as a result.
Reuben Droughns v. BAL –
He’s allergic to the end zone and occasionally throws up
a dud but, all things considered, Droughns has been pretty effective
this year. You couldn’t have made the championship game
with him as your #1 guy but it’s possible you did with him
at the #2 or flex spot. If so, stick with him.
Noah Herron v. SEA – Herron
was far from spectacular on Christmas night but did manage to
score on a nice, little run in the second quarter against Chicago’s
vaunted D. He should get the majority of the early-down touches
again this week and that might be enough for some good numbers
against a Seattle team on cruise control.
Steven Jackson @ DAL –
You probably expected more from him this season but 1,000+ yards
and 10 scores is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Next year’s goal? More consistency. He has six, 24, and
28-yard efforts to his credit thus far and you definitely can’t
live with three worthless outings from your #1 guy. Hope for more
stability at QB in ’06.
Grab A Gatorade:
Zack Crockett v. NYG –
He was better than I thought he’d be last week and was essentially
the only Raider who bothered to show up. I mean, there’s
mailing it in and then there’s what the Raiders are doing…leaving
the mail on the countertop ‘cuz you’re too damn lazy
to walk to the post office. Expect a similarly shameful effort
against New York this weekend and, by association, limited production
Any New Orleans RB @ TB –
Any Detroit RB @ PIT –
Any Arizona RB @ IND –
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends