Must Start: The Top 15
1. LaDainian Tomlinson v. STL—Fantasy’s
Everyman was at it again last Sunday, racking up 138 total yards
and even throwing one of his halfback option specials to Brandon
Manamanameleamamanau to tie the game late. Unfortunately, it wasn’t
enough as the Chargers bowed to the Chiefs at Arrowhead yet again.
This week, they draw a well-rested St. Louis crew that could give
San Diego all they can handle. Expect lots of points and, naturally,
lots of LT.
2. Larry Johnson v. SEA—So
THAT’S why everyone had him rated #1 coming into the season,
huh? After a slow start, LJ has found paydirt six times in his
last four contests and appears to be regaining the form that made
him such a stud at the tail end of ’05. We had this one
circled as a mano-y-mano LJ v. Alexander special but that’ll
hafta wait for another time as Seattle’s main man will be
in street gear. Probably a good thing for Johnson and the Chiefs.
3. Brian Westbrook v. JAX—If
your league rewards kicker points for 100-yard rushing/receiving
days, Merry Christmas! Westbrook did both last Sunday, tallying
214 large and what should have been the game-winning score on
a 52-yard grab n’ dash late in the fourth quarter. No reasonable
person would expect him to be as spectacular this weekend but,
then again, what’s to stop him? Not the Jags if last week’s
performance is any indication. Start him as usual.
4. Tatum Bell v. IND—One
of Denver’s only reliable offensive weapons was at it again
in Week 7, notching triple digits and another touch in the victory
at Cleveland. This Sunday, he draws an Indy D that is second-to-last
against the run (158.0 yards/game). Only reason he’s not
#1? Denver might be playing from behind all afternoon. You start
him, of course, but 150+ might be unrealistic.
5. Steven Jackson @ SD—I
told you he’d fail to top the 100-yard mark in Week 6 and,
sure enough, he did (albeit barely). This week, he faces another
tough run defense that will attempt to make the Rams one-dimensional.
Again, careful what you wish for, Chargers fans. Bulger and the
wideouts are capable of lighting up anyone and, I suspect, good
enough to keep the pressure off SJ, as well. Get him back in there.
6. Tiki Barber v. TB—We
haven’t had a 200-yard rusher yet this season but I’ve
got a feeling Tiki will be the first, maybe even this week against
Tampa’s no-longer-formidable front seven. Then again, he
needs all those yards to measure up with the other top 10 backs
as he’s scored nary a touchdown thus far. Hey, don’t
say I didn’t warn you…and go find Brandon Jacobs if
you’re in a dynasty league.
7. Willie Parker @ OAK—Parker
was almost an afterthought in the Hotlanta shootout (20 carries
for 47 yards and no receptions) but if we’ve learned anything
about Coach Cowher over the years, it’s that running the
football is goal #1 in Pittsburgh. Expect him to get back to that
philosophy this Sunday against the Raiders, with FWP being the
primary beneficiary. 140 yards and a score. Mark it down, people.
8. Travis Henry v. HOU—How
‘bout a little love for Jeff Fisher and his survivor pool
slayin’ Titans, huh? Coming off a surprise W in Week 6 (their
first) and a bye week, Tennessee goes for two straight against
Houston in a game that should be more rivalrous than it is, considering
the intertwined histories of the two franchises. Henry’s
the reason it will be close, as he’s rushed for over 300
bills in his last two.
9. Rudi Johnson v. ATL—Rudi
finally got back in triple-digit territory with 101 yards in the
Week 7 win over Carolina but couldn’t find the end zone,
something he hasn’t done in almost a month. I’m not
sure he reverses that trend this weekend (the Falcons have yielded
only two rushing touchdowns all season) but I expect a lot of
points at Paul Brown Stadium and when points get scored there,
he’s usually one of the folks scoring them. Start him, but
have Chris Perry in reserve in the unlikely event he’s unable
10. Leon Washington @ CLE—I
called Wali Lundy this year’s Willie Parker but I probably
jumped the gun a bit. Would the REAL Willie Parker please stand
up? Oh, wait. He IS standing up. Buh-dum Bum! But seriously, folks,
the former Seminole is the real deal. Though he only reaches 5’8”
(on tippy toes), Washington is lightning fast and surprisingly
tough between the tackles. Start him against Cleveland’s
third-rate run defense this Sunday.
11. Reuben Droughns v. NYJ—If
Cleveland’s run defense is third-rate, New York’s
isn’t much better. They both give up boatloads of yardage
and the Jets have also allowed a whopping 12 TD scampers in ’06,
or about two per game. If Droughns is ever going to score again
(he is, isn’t he?), this’ll be the week he does it.
Pencil him in for 80-100 yards and the ever important six-pointer.
12. Thomas Jones v. SFO—The
committee seems to come and go in Chitown but Jones is easily
the most reliable of the two Bears backs, averaging nearly 20
carries per contest in the early going. Sure, he’ll lose
carries to Ced Benson from time to time but there should be more
than enough to go around this weekend as the Monsters kick around
San Fran’s weak sisters. I like him to approach the 100-yard
mark and score once as they remain undefeated this weekend.
13. Warrick Dunn @ CIN—He’s
ceding more and more touches to hotshot rook Jerious Norwood and
is always a threat to be outgained by his QB but Dunn is still
a legit top 15 running back for most fantasy GMs. The reason?
Did you see that 90-yard scamper in Week 6? Guys his age aren’t
supposed to be home run hitters but he still is in this, his tenth
campaign. Start him.
14. Cadillac Williams @ NYG—Caddy
hasn’t hit a home run since his NFL debut, a 71-yard, deal-sealing
jaunt against the Vikes last season. Come to think of it, he hasn’t
hit too many extra-base knocks lately, either. Nonetheless, the
small ball approach seems to be working as he hasn’t dipped
under 83 total yards in any of his past three tilts. Give him
the nod against New York and expect something in that ballpark
15. Chester Taylor v. NE—Speaking
of the Vikes, why isn’t anybody talking about them? They’ve
beaten the ‘Skins, the Panthers, and the Seahawks (all purportedly
contenders) and also gave the Bears their second-best game of
the year in Week 3. If that defense keeps stoning opposing backs
and Taylor keeps grinding it out between the twenties, they could
be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. Don’t
forget they have a Super Bowl winner under center, too.
Grab A Helmet:
Laurence Maroney or Corey Dillon @
MIN—In fact, this particular Monday night matchup
is starting to look more and more compelling by the minute. The
Minnesota run defense is now ranked first in the league (honk
if you knew this) and will get another stern test against New
England’s ground-pounding duo, Maroney and Dillon, in Week
8. The latter was more valuable last Sunday but they’re
both capable of succeeding, even against a front as stout as Minny’s.
Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew @
PHI—There’s more than one way to skin a cat
in JVille, it appears. Taylor is clearly the better yardage guy
(451 to 187) but Jones-Drew the better scoring option (five TDs
to two). The long and short of it? They’re almost identical
from a fantasy perspective. That means you should consider either
guy a strong #2 or a superior #3 heading into the Week 8 showdown
at the Linc.
Wali Lundy @ TEN—Perhaps
the Texans pulled the plug too early on him to start the season?
One thing’s for certain: Lundy wasn’t gonna let gift-wrapped
opportunity #2 slip through his hands. Though he didn’t
start against the Jaguars, he eventually replaced the ineffective
Samkon Gado and dashed for 93 yards and a score on 19 carries.
Coach Kubes has named him the starter for now and that means you
should, as well, especially against the Titans this Sunday.
Dominic Rhodes or Joseph Addai @ DEN—Neither
of these two is in danger of cracking the top 15 anytime soon,
at least not until one of them (preferably Addai) seizes the role
full time. Unfortunately, Coach Dungy has no motivation to do
so since the Colts are undefeated and whirring along just fine,
thank you very much. The Broncos are tough on opposing backs but
Peyton and his gang are capable of loosening up even the most
restrictive of run defenses. One of them scores this Sunday. You
DeShaun Foster v. DAL—Not
sure what to say about this guy anymore. He’s just too unpredictable
to forecast. He’s also too talented not to mention. Consider
this your shoulder shrug special of the week since you’ll
probably play him whether I tell you to or not.
Julius Jones @ CAR—Same
goes for him, more than likely. With three 100-yard outings in
his not-too-distant past, you can’t sit him down. Then again,
he almost never gets quality looks near the goal line. I mean,
he looks at them. It’s just that he’s usually standing
next to Bill Parcells. Can’t help you here, folks, other
than to say I make it a rule of thumb not to draft players like
him (I’ve never owned him).
Ahman Green v. ARZ—Holy
seventy-yard scamper, Batman! Most fantasy diehards have written
him off but, ever the homer, I can’t seem to let go. Hey,
I might not even have to if his last two games are any indication
(249 total yards and two scores). Give him a look against the
hapless Cards this Sunday and hope that hammy (or at least Green)
can go the distance.
Grab A Gatorade:
Deuce McAllister v. BAL—The
Saints have been home sweet home for almost a month now and cap
off the three-game Superdome-stand with a tilt against Baltimore’s
defense-fueled/offense-challenged bunch. That probably spells
trouble from a fantasy perspective, especially for a guy like
Deuce who is reportedly suffering from a hamstring injury. He’s
slated to play but any setbacks and you could be severely disappointed
come Sunday. If you hafta start someone in this game, make it
Reggie Bush. At least we know he’s capable of scoring anytime
Any Oakland RB v. PIT—LaMont
Jordan and Justin Fargas are iffy and that means Zack Crockett
or (gulp) Reshard Lee could get the nod against the Curtain this
Sunday. I challenge you to think of a less enticing matchup than
any of these guys v. a pissed off Steelers crew.
Frank Gore @ CHI—OK, I
take that back. Gore v. the Bears (ANYBODY against the Bears)
isn’t much better. He’s an auto-start most of the
time but “most of the time” does not include this
weekend. Sit him down if you can afford to and hope he lives to
play another day.
Edgerrin James @ GB—You’d
need a shovel to find his yards/carry average (2.7), not to mention
his characteristically brimming confidence. Word is he’s
starting to question why he left Indianapolis. Um, Edge? Maybe
you should check that bank balance. Don’t expect things
to get much better. The Cardinals O-line simply can’t run
block and the Pack is surprisingly decent in that area. Stick
with Leinart and the young receivers this weekend.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends