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Tunnel Vision - Week 14
By David M. Dorey
December 1, 2003
 
Sunday Salutes
Quarterbacks Yards TD
Matt Hasselbeck 328 3
Peyton Manning 278 4
Jon Kitna 271 3
Running Backs Yards TD
Priest Holmes 186 2
Clinton Portis 177 2
Marshall Faulk 143 3
Wide Receivers Yards TD
Randy Moss 160 1
Chris Chambers 96 3
Darrell Jackson 102 2
Tight Ends Yards TD
Tony Gonzalez 28 2
Antonia Gates 49 1
Eddie Williams 43 1
Placekickers XP FG
Jason Hanson 1 5
Matt Stover 5 3
David Akers 1 4
Defense/Special Teams TDs Sacks TOs
Miami 1 5 5
St. Louis 1 3 8
Baltimore 1 0 4

Week 13 Bumps, Bruises and Bow-outs

QB Tony Banks - Broken hand
QB Drew Bledsoe - Concussion
QB Tim Couch - Sprained knee
RB Garrison Hearst - Sprained knee
WR Quincy Morgan - Concussion
TE Marcellus Rivers - Sprained knee
TE Dallas Clark - Fractured fibula
TE Dave Moore - Concussion

Back to the Future

The NFL got a sneak peek at next season when Michael Vick ended up playing against Houston from the midpoint of the third quarter. Vick threw 8 of 11 for 60 yards and ran three times for 16 yards. The Falcons did use him during another loss to remind fans it is still 2003.

Emmitt Smith also caught a glimpse of his future when he finally played again this season, carrying the ball one time for a three yard loss. If he does not retire soon, he could jeopardize his rushing record. Bet he never factored that into his decision to keep playing.

Where is my riot gear?

Each week during the NFL season is like watching small battles - some are hard fought, some are surprises and a few are usually over with the first shot over the bow. But this week is shaping up to be more of a cage match where almost all the teams have meaningful and tough games that will likely have a big bearing on who is going to win a division, who will have a winning record and who is going to be looking for employment in January. Almost every game pits two similar teams.

Let's take a gander at one of the more exciting slates I have ever seen:

CIN at BAL This game likely decides the winner of the AFC North and CIN has already beaten the Ravens
DAL at PHI This game likely decides the winner of the NFC East and DAL has already beaten the Eagles.
IND at TEN This game likely decides the winner of the AFC South and IND has already beaten the Titans.
MIA at NE This game likely decides the winner of the AFC East if NE wins but MIA is on a hot streak and NE is due for a fall after winning their last eight games.
CHI at GB A Bears win would actually keep them in playoff contention and the Packers come off two straight losses that had Favre throw three interceptions in each.
SEA at MIN Both teams can score points, both teams are at or near the top of their divisions. Neither can afford a loss.
TB at NO Saints have had the magic over the Bucs but NO is legendary for December meltdowns.
KC at DEN There could be 300 yards rushing in this game. DEN must win to stay alive.
NYJ at BUF Throw out the records, these teams are both looking better
CAR at ATL Yeah, the Falcons but with Vick and against CAR who has lost their last two games.
STL at CLE Rams are not good on the road and CLE is absolutely unpredictable week to week.

Even the games against non-playoff teams should be close since they pit similar teams.

HOU at JAX Texans already beat Jaguars once this season and both come off an actual win.
OAK at PIT Both teams are disappointing and both now looking to keep jobs
SD at DET Bad teams meet each other and no defenses get in the way
WAS at NYG Who knows what teams will show up?
ARZ at SF 49ers tough at home, but ARZ beat them before and SF looks like they are losing will to win.

Closest to the finish line

While mathematically many teams are technically in the race still, let's take a gander at the front runners

AFC East
 
New England
10-2
Have won eight in a row and using the TB plan - no running game, can throw and have a great defense. (Next - MIA, JAX, @NYJ, BUF) This team could actually end up 14-2.
Miami
8-4
Have won three in a row and look much better with Fiedler. Perfectly poised for their annual December slide. Wanny gets his last chance to make good. (Next - @NE, PHI, @BUF, NYJ) Two tough games coming up and then two easier ones.
AFC North
 
Baltimore
7-5
Even more like 2002 TB with a great defense but featuring big running game with minimal passing. Anthony Wright trying to change that perception. (Next - CIN, @OAK, @CLE, PIT) All games are "winnable" but will go down to the wire with CIN now.
Cincinnati
7-5
Won their last four games and are improving every week. Kitna passing great, two running backs in the stable and a defense that is becoming good enough. (Next - @BAL, SF, @STL, CLE) Tough out schedule but even two more wins likely would get them a playoff birth and in the AFC North - who knows?
AFC South
 
Tennessee
9-2
Have won six in a row and looked dominating in the process. Big scoring offense, top QB in McNair and an underrated defense. (Next - IND, BUF, @HOU, TB) Division title happens next week most likely. Titans could also possibly end 14-2.
Indianapolis
9-3
Loss yesterday hurts but sets the stage for a last stand this week against TEN. Lack of defense still haunting them. (Next - @TEN, ATL, DEN, @HOU). More likely to get a wildcard but did give TEN their only real whipping of the year.
AFC West
 
Kansas City
11-1
So far have been always better at scoring than opponents (except CIN). Defense still not top notch but when the offense can throw up even more points - does it matter? (Next - @DEN, DET, @MIN, CHI) Two fairly tough road games but even one loss in the two still means a first round bye.
Denver
7-5
Still in the wild card race but a brutal out schedule (Next - KC, CLE, @IND, @GB) Those wrap up road games in week 16 and 17 will be tough.
NFC East
 
Philadelphia
9-3
Have won their last seven games and are now in fifth gear after needing a push to start the season. For a team that everyone made fun of a few months ago, the Eagles are the most likely first round bye team. (Next DAL, @MIA, SF, @WAS) If they can get past the next two weeks - and they can - definite contenders for the conference.
Dallas
8-4
Stumbling lately and scoreless in last two road losses, Parcell's boys are no lock for the playoffs and yet are still situated to control their own destiny. Unfortunately that starts in Philly this week. (Next - @PHI, @WAS, NYG, NO) Tough but mostly against known opponents.
NFC North
 
Minnesota
7-5
Vikings went from red hot to ice cold but in the NFC North, they control their own destiny (Next - SEA, @CHI, KC, @ARZ). Two road games can be won and two home games may be lost.
Green Bay
6-6
Dropping the last one to DET was no help but someone has to win the North. Unfortunately has no more warm weather teams to lure into Lambeau. (Next - CHI, @SD, @OAK, DEN). As quickly as MIN has slid, still has excellent shot at division.
NFC South
 
Carolina
8-4
Lost last two after strong start but nice out schedule should get them into the playoffs. (Next - @ATL, @ARZ, DET, @NYG) Could end up 12-4
New Orleans
6-6
In a reverse of the past years, started slowly and are now playing better. In the hunt for a wildcard with three home games left but will be challenged by out schedule. (Next - TB, NYG, @JAX, DAL) This is their chance to reverse past history.
NFC West
 
St. Louis
9-3
Long as they can stay at home in the playoffs, definite contender for conference. Once they hit the road, it's like watching "Planes, Trains and Automobiles". (Next - @CLE, SEA, CIN, @DET)
Seattle
8-4
Seahawks are similar to the Rams - both are undefeated at home and yet terrible on the road. Problem here is that Seattle has three road games against only two for St. Louis. (Next - @MIN, @STL, ARZ, @SF) Run through their own division decides their fate.

So that's why they call them "running backs"

Thank Richie Anderson for his touchdown catch on Thanksgiving from saving this as the first week this season, maybe in years, that no running back caught a receiving touchdown. Those nice fantasy points are fewer this season since 2001 had running backs catch a total of 73 touchdowns. In 2002, that number was up to 92 receiving scores for running backs for the season. For 2003? We stand at 42 currently, projected out would end with 56 for the year.

As if that is not depressing enough, there have only been five running backs that had scored a touchdown on a pass in the past three weeks. Then again, last week had 13 runners go over the 100 yards rushing mark and at least ten have done it each of the past three weeks.

The Old Man wants to talk to you

The Giants have now lost their last four games and have only one win in six home games this season. Yesterday's debacle led to fans leaving in droves prior to the ending of the 24-7 spanking by the Buffalo Bills. The 87 year-old owner Wellington Mara was prompted to make a public appeal to the fans that he has heard their message and is not satisfied himself. He would not comment on the future of head coach Jim Fassel who still has a year left on his contract.

The Giants share their 1-5 home mark with the Chargers and only the Falcons (0-6) are worse. That makes Jim Fassel, Marty Schottenheimer and Dan Reeves the most likely members of the "where's my suitcase" club.

Drama 101 - Somebody has to laugh, somebody has to cry

Comedy Lineup Yards TDs Tragedy Lineup Yards TDs
QB Jay Fiedler 239 3 QB Jeff Garcia 112 0
RB Brock Forsey 161 1 RB Tiki Barber 24 0
RB Trung Canidate 109 0 RB Garrison Hearst 50 0
WR Dedric Ward 50 1 WR Joe Horn 10 0
WR Justin Gage 100 0 WR Terrell Owens 23 0
WR Marcus Robinson 71 1 WR Rod Smith 20 0
PK Jason Hanson 5 FG 1 XP PK Ryan Longwell

2 XP

Huddle Fantasy Points = 111

Huddle Fantasy Points = 19

The higher you go...

There were nine teams that ended last season with ten or more wins. Having reached the magic mark, these represented the biggest winners in the regular season. How does reaching the top impact the next season?

  2002 2003  
Green Bay 12-4 6-6 Still in the hunt for the division no one wants
Tampa Bay 12-4 5-7 Only rings they might get this year are made of onions instead of gold.
Oakland 11-5 3-9 Commitment to Diminishing Returns
NY Giants 10-6 4-8 Maybe Hilliard being healthy is the jinx.
Pittsburgh 10-5-1 4-8 Steel curtain now open and ready for opponents to put on weekly show.
San Francisco 10-5 5-7 Okay by the bay, always rode on the road. Always.
 
 
 
 
Philadelphia 12-4 9-3 Smart enough to look terrible early and get it out of the way.
Tennessee 11-5 9-2 This happens when McNair does not wear a boot for the first 11 games.
Indianapolis 10-6 9-3 Colts defense does not make reaching 10 again a guarantee.

One out of three teams are meeting expectations. Seems sort of high for this season though...

Sunday's Couch Commentary

GB 14, DET 22 Getting mauled by the Lions is like getting mugged for your lunch money by a girl scout. On national TV, during Thanksgiving. Probably the result of all that imported cheese from California.
MIA 40, DAL 21 This is how the best defense in the league acts at home, on a short week in front of the entire country? How would the worst defense have done? Oh yeah - they beat the Packers. Lack of any running game scuttled the offense while lack of any pass defense turned the Cowboys into Chamber-Mades.
ATL 13, HOU 17 Falcons now petition the NFL to allow them to play games while in flight since being at home or as a visitor seems to be a problem. Vick finally returns to the playing field to find the offense looks even worse from under center than from the sideline.
ARZ 3, CHI 28 When you lose by 25 points to Kordell Stewart and Brock Forsey, maybe it's time to till the sand and start over. Since Boldin only had 33 yards, the secret to the offense is now out in the open. If Chicago beats the Packers next week, they are only one game out of first place in the NFC North, assuming Minnesota loses to Seattle which you should.
PHI 25, CAR 16 Panthers get a lesson from Philly that it is not how you start the season, it is how you end it. Eagles use three running backs in almost equal proportions and nine different receivers who gained no more than 40 yards individually. By the fourth quarter, "cover them all" gets even harder to do.
SF 6, BAL 44 Evidently, the team that historically has "so many weapons" are losing them all at the metal detector in the airport since they have yet to win a road game this season. Hard to imagine that Anthony Wright and Marcus Robinson are not only better than Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, they are becoming exponentially better. Fortunately, SF warmly greets visiting ARZ this week before losing in CIN the following one. When Ray Lewis is in the game and the quarterback calls an audible, you can always tell who is going to get the ball because he is the only player that screams before the ball is snapped.
MIN 17, STL 48 Ah yes, points and more points. Maybe more Rams points than Vikings points but there was more to share here than at the average Thanksgiving Day feast. Culpepper, Bulger, Faulk, Moss, Holt, Bruce, Bennett, STL defense - it's all good. Sort of makes up for all those 9-6 Tampa Bay games last season. Almost.
CIN 24, PIT 20 At some point the Steelers will realize that getting 3 yards per carry from Bettis is actually not that good. Burress turned in 112 yards so it is safe to start him next week and enjoy his probable 22 yards. Bengals being a good team now is like watching the Karate Kid movie, only it took about 15 years to get to the ending. "Wax on, Chad".
BUF 24, NYG 7 If Jim Fassell visits Australia, does his career swirl counterclockwise? Take away Toomer's 77 yard touchdown and this becomes an incredible blowout by a team that had lost its two last road games by a combined score of 8-68. Giants are now performing a weekly limbo act while the Bills still aspire to mediocrity.
DEN 22, OAK 8 It is only fitting that the black hole is where aging stars disappear. By this point, the only goal for Oakland each game is to keep the consecutive pass catching streaks alive for Rice and Brown. Denver may have lost to the Bears last week, but any season with two wins over the Raiders cannot be considered a total loss.
NO 24, WAS 20 Skins almost had a win before the Saints went Boo. It may be small consolation, but at least Washington has lost their last four games by a touchdown or less. Spurrier should consider hiring some out-of-work spin doctors to give his postgame interviews. There has to be plenty available in Washington D.C.. Aaron Brooks called and said to tell you he was really sorry about not passing very well but that he hoped his two rushing scores made up for it. All is forgiven, Aaron.
CLE 7, SEA 34 If "opening up the offense" is this effective, why did it take ten games to realize it? Browns have scored 13 points in the last two games combined and yet had 64 points in the two games before that. It's like they give up when they lose the opening coin toss.
KC 28, SD 24 Seven of the Chiefs ten wins this season have been by a touchdown or less. It's like all their games lately have to be point-fests. It's like a fantasy bonanza for all players when the Chiefs are in a game. It's like "Yeah Baby!", please do not ever change. In the words of Billy Joel, "I love you just the way you are".
TB 10, JAX 17 Here's a picture of Warren Sapp kinda mad. Here's one where he is pouting. This is Sapp's pensive look. Oh look, here is the one where he is thinking "I'm going to strangle someone before the night is over". Here is a big 8x10 glossy of the entire team looking at each other and saying "well crud, this used to work really well last year". Jacksonville discovers that the best way to get a rookie quarterback out of his funk is to threaten him with the bench and then make him play against the world champs. Go figure.

Game-O-The-Week

Unfortunately, there were no overtime games yesterday. There were no comeback wins really other than the Bengals who led the entire game until three minutes remaining. They let Pittsburgh score and then marched back down to take the win back.

The Bears did score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but they were already ahead for good when they scored midway in the first quarter against Arizona. As the game of the week, the only close one with points and meaning qualifies.

Winner: New England 38, Indianapolis 34

This was a game much like the others this week - it was not really a comeback, it was merely that the Pats allowed Indianapolis to draw to a 31-31 tie for one minute and 45 seconds before retaking the lead for good with 8:36 left to play.

The only notable parts of that game was that the Colts drew to 10-17 at the end of the half and instead of squibbing the kick to kill the clock, they kicked deep and allowed Bethel Johnson to return it 92 yards for a touchdown.

The Colts were on the Patriots 9-yard line with 59 seconds left to play and lost the game when they were unable to punch in a touchdown on the next five plays. I mean you have Harrison, Manning and the rest and so the Colts try running Edgerrin James on four of the five plays. The Patriots held them on four plays from the 2-yard line.

Next week should be much better for close games and interesting matchups than this week proved. Next week is almost scary good and if only on next Sunday, it is a day to have Direct TV, NFL Sunday Ticket and the ability to switch hands when your thumb gets tired clicking the remote.

As with most things in life, the anticipation of this coming weekend almost has to be better than what will happen.

Then again, maybe week 14, 2003 will be the best yet.

Stock up on AA batteries for the remote and throw out the leftovers to make room for the beer. This is the calm before the storm.

Now get back to work...