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Behind the Iron Curtain - Week 15
By Dave Foral
December 11, 2003
 

If you're still paying attention and reading this article, it must mean you've made the playoffs. congrats! For the next two or three weeks, focus on starting the players who have helped you make it this far. ALWAYS - whether it's offense or defense - start your studs, regardless of the match up, status in the playoff race, boarder-line health, etc. If the cupboard's full of IDP talent, THEN analyze your match ups, trends, and weather conditions to start at team you are comfortable will net you double-digit points per player. If you can do that, you've got a solid chance of moving on to the next round, or winning the league championship. If the cupboard's bare or half-empty, I have some leads for you below that may help provide some relief. In any case, congratulations again, and best of luck in the playoffs!

Linebackers

WHO'S HOT

Only two weeks ago, we saw twelve linebackers hit double-digit solo tackles. In Week 14, much to the dismay of many IDP league managers, there was only one, Brent Boyer, Cleveland Browns. Boyer was a man possessed versus the visiting St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football, posting 12 solo and 3 assisted tackles. On more than one occasion, I've highlighted players who had breakout games and appeared to have the potential to be contributors on rosters in need. Boyer is that and more, having realized 3 strong weeks in a row and averaging 8 solo tackles with an interception. It seems that former-stalwart Andra Brown, the Brown's MLB, has cooled and Boyer has picked up where he left off. Amazingly, Boyer's anonymity might preclude him still on many league's free agency list, so if you are in the playoffs and want insurance - or would like to take a defensive posture against your foes - grab him immediately. It appears that the release of "ME"-shawn Johnson has sparked someone to greater play, and that would be Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brooks has been a borderline bust this year, producing at a far lesser pace than most owners had hoped when they drafted him 1st or 2nd LB in their draft. Well, if the past couple of weeks are any indication, you may be very glad if you held onto Brooks for the playoffs. Against the Saints in Week 14, he seemed the Brooks-of-old, grabbing 9 solo and 1 assisted tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. The Buccaneers are barely clinging to playoff hopes and are playing for pride. If one were the wagering type, it seems a safe bet that Brooks will contribute significantly high fantasy stats for the duration of the season. Last week, I listed Tim Johnson, Oakland Raiders, as "Hot", and it appears this was the correct prognosis. Johnson is seizing the starting opportunity he's been presented in grand fashion, flying all over the field and projecting himself into tackling situations. Against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Johnson had 9 solo and 5 assisted tackles, and undoubtedly secured himself a roster spot for 2004. If you were in need of a LB last week, hopefully you nabbed Johnson upon suggesting you do so. it's most certainly too late to do so this week. Other LB's of note in Week 14: Jessie Armstead, WAS Redskins; Jamie Sharper, HOU Texans; Julian Peterson, SF 49ers; Lance Briggs, CHI Bears; Tedy Bruschi, NE Patriots; Ray Lewis and Peter Bouleware, BAL Ravens; Kevin Hardy, CIN Bengals; London Fletcher, BUF Bills; Keith Bulluck, TEN Titans; David Thornton, IND Colts; Keith Brooking, ATL Falcons; and Eric Barton, OAK Raiders.

WHO'S NOT

Ouch. I hope you weren't relying on Sam Cowart, New York Jets, heading into the playoffs this week, as he's been ruled out with a thigh injury. I would guess that for many fantasy IDP squads, losing Cowart could be perceived as a proverbial death-blow to any thought of progressing deeper into the playoffs. While he may not have fully lived up to the Jet organization's expectations, Cowart is undoubtedly one of the league's best OLB's, and has been a IDP stud this year. So, his inability to contribute this week - most playoffs begin in Week 15 - is a tough issue to overcome. Hopefully you've not waited until now. if so, check to see if Boyer is available or Cowart's backup, Jason Glenn, who posted 6 solo and 2 assisted tackles spelling Cowart in Week 14. Another dependable linebacker likely lost for the season is Robert Thomas, St. Louis Rams, with a torn groin. Thomas had been a pleasant surprise this year, keeping personal problems off the field and staying within Lovie Smith's schemes. Backup Jamie Duncan will fill in and could be a decent pick up in Thomas' absence. Young and athletic Adalius Thomas', Baltimore Ravens, regular season was likely shorted by a fractured arm that will reportedly keep him out up to 4 weeks. Thomas has shown improvement throughout the year, providing excellent run support, the ability to fall back in coverage, and pressure on the quarter back. His replacement, rookie Terrell Suggs, has been a dynamo in pass rush situations, but it bears watching to see how he adapts to the full gamut of responsibilities he'll inherit.

START 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM

Lance Briggs, CHI Bears, against the MIN Vikings
Julian Peterson, SF 49ers, against the CIN Bengals
Keith Brooking, ATL Falcons, against the IND Colts
David Thornton, IND Colts, against the ATL Falcons
Scott Fujita, KC Chiefs, against the DET Lions
Tedy Bruschi, NE Patriots, against the JAX Jaguars
Kendrell Bell, PIT Steelers, against the NY Jets
Derrick Thomas, TB Bucs, against the HOU Texans
London Fletcher, BUF Bills, against the TEN Titans
Keith Bulluck, against the BUF Bills
Ray Lewis, BAL Ravens, against the OAK Raiders
Ronald McKinnon, AZ Cardinals, against the CAR Panthers
Donnie Edwards, SD Chargers, against the GB Packers
Jeremiah Trotter, WAS Redskins, against the DAL Cowboys
Michael Barrow, NY Giants, against the WAS Redskins
Mark Simoneau, PHI Eagles, against the MIA Dolphins
Zach Thomas, MIA Dolphins, against the PHI Eagles

Defensive Linemen

WHO'S HOT

One cannot overlook a 3 solo tackle and 3 sack outing - this is the outstanding production realized by Kimo von Oelhoffen, Pittsburgh Steelers, against the Raiders in Week 14. While productively sporadic, von Oelhoffen has shown the potential to have explosive games and is enjoying his best season in recent years. The Steelers are playing as well on defense as they have all year, and this could lead to more sack opportunities for von Oelhoffen in the coming weeks. Bertrand Berry, Denver Broncos, had a career day against rival Kansas City, and the defense looked stifling. Berry has been too much of a threat in the tackling department - a trait I prefer in a DL - but there's no arguing his ability to pressure the quarter back this year. With Trevor Pryce on the other end, Berry finds himself more often than not in one-on-one confrontations, and he possesses the high-motor and speed to exploit that match up. This scenario was demonstrated, as Berry reeled in 2 solo and 2 assisted tackle, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Another player benefiting from his recently thriving team defense is ND Kalu, Philadelphia Eagles. Like Berry, Kalu has his occasional splash of multiple sack games, but also offers a propensity to support against the run. Against the Cowboys in a heated rivalry and divisional race game, Kalu contributed 7 solo and 1 assisted tackles, and a sack. As mentioned before, the team's defense gets better each and every week, and I would expect Kalu to benefit from this overall success by posting continually strong stats. Other DL's of note in Week 14: Simeon Rice, TB Bucs; Michael Strahan, NY Giants; Tony Brackens, JAX Jags; Adewale Ogunleye, MIA Dolphins; Sam Adams, NE Patriots; and Orpheus Roye, CLE Browns.

WHO'S NOT

Courtney Brown, Cleveland Browns, is lost for the season, having been placed on IR after rupturing his right bicep tendon during the Monday Night Football game. While Brown did not quite squash the skepticism this year that he's not lived up to the hype coming out of college, his presence has been formidable and consistent. Mark Word will take over the end spot for the remainder of the season. He may have scored his second touchdown, but Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also strained his left foot during Week 14's match up with the Saints. He'll be listed as questionable, although I fully expect him to play as long as the Bucs hold a slim chance of making the playoffs. However, if you are in the first week of your fantasy playoffs, I wouldn't recommend banking on Sapp as your DL or for another TD this week. Anthony "Booger" McFarland, the Bucs other DT, is a more than capable fill-in for Sapp for the next two weeks, or until you are comfortable that Sapp will be a solid contributor. Keep an eye on star DE Mike Rucker, Carolina Panthers, who is listed as questionable this week with a sprained knee. Rucker finished the game last week against the Falcons, but it seems plausible that his production could take a hit if he is unable to leverage his strength and speed as a result of this tweaked knee. Still, Rucker at 50% is better than most defensive linemen and it is likely that he will play against Cardinals as the Panthers look to lock up a playoff spot.

START 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM

Dwight Freeney, IND Colts, against the ATL Falcons
Aaron Schobel, BUF Bills, against the TEN Titans
Eric Hicks, KC Chiefs, against the DET Lions
Simeon Rice, TB Bucs, against the HOU Texans
Kevin Williams, MIN Vikings, against the CHI Bears
Shaun Ellis, NY Jets, against the PIT Steelers
Leonard Little, STL Rams, against the SEA Seahawks
Justin Smith, CIN Bengals, against the SF 49ers
Bertrand Berry, DEN Broncos, against the CLE Browns
Mike Rucker/Julius Peppers, CAR Panthers, against the AZ Cardinals
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, GB Packers, against the SD Chargers
Michael Strahan, NY Giants, against the NO Saints
Darren Howard, NO Saints, against the NY Giants
Jason Taylor/Adewale Ogunleye, MIA Dolphins, against the PHI Eagles

Defensive Backs

WHO'S HOT

It is unfathomable to begin this section of this week's column without mentioning Aeneas Williams, St. Louis Rams. Williams almost single-handedly stuck the dagger into the competitive spirit of the Browns by accumulating the following incredible stats: 8 solo and 2 assisted tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions, including one for a touchdown. Granted, it was against the Browns, but to me, it is amazing that Williams is in his 13th season, is playing at such a high-level, and has scored -fantasy-wise - every way possible this year. Another all-around performance in Week 14 was turned in by Deon Grant, Carolina Panthers. Against the Falcons, Grant was in on 8 solo tackles, 1 sack, an interception, and two pass deflections - not a bad effort! With upcoming games against first-time starting QB Josh McCown, Arizona Cardinals, and Joey Harrington, DET Lions, odds are pretty darn good that Grant will be making some big plays to help you win your fantasy league championship. Lance Schulters, Tennessee Titans, is starting to come through with the type of performance I anticipated before the season began. While he's without an interception, he is on track with tackles and sacks, as exemplified by his 6 solo and 4 assisted tackle and 1 sack outing against the Colts in Week 14. Schulters appears to building up some steam, and may be a good play the next two weeks, as the Titans try to keep pace with the Colts.

WHO'S NOT

Aaron Glenn, Houston Texans, is the latest casualty on a team that has been decimated by injuries this year. He was put on IR this week with an extremely strained groin. Glenn has arguably been the Texans most consistent defensive player this year, and his leadership on the field will be missed. Kenny Wright will fill Glenn's spot and just might be of value, as offensive coordinators will likely target his side of the ball, with a stingy Marcus Coleman on the other side. Corey Harris, Detroit Lions, will miss the rest of the season with a torn right hamstring. The Lions' secondary is already very thin, and it appears that Terrence Holt (Torry's brother) will see more playing time in Harris' spot. Harris will be missed, as he was the team's 3rd best tackler.

START 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM

Brian Russell, MIN Vikings, against the CHI Bears
Mike Doss, IND Colts, against the ATL Falcons
Greg Wesley, KC Chiefs, against the DET Lions
Rodney Harrison, NE Patriots, against the JAX Jaguars
Adam Archuleta, STL Rams, against the SEA Seahawks
Ronde Barber, TB Bucs, against the HOU Texans
Lance Shulters, TEN Titans, against the BUF Bills
Lawyer Milloy, BUF Bills, against the TEN Titans
Robert Griffith, CLE Browns, against the DEN Broncos
Ed Reed, BAL Ravens, against the OAK Raiders
Deon Grant/Mike Minter, against the AZ Cardinals
Darren Sharper, GB Packers, against the SD Chargers
Roy Williams, DAL Cowboys, against the WAS Redskins
Ifeanyi Ohalete, WAS Redskins, against the DAL Cowboys
Omar Stoutmire, NY Giants, against the NO Saints
Jay Bellamy, NO Saints, against the NY Giants
Sammy Knight, MIA Dolphins, against the PHI Eagles

Top 12 Team Defenses

  1. TB Bucs vs. HOU Texans - Bucs getting scrappy. HOU can barely field a team
  2. BAL Ravens @ OAK Raiders - Can it get even uglier for OAK? Yes. it can.
  3. NE Pats vs. JAX Jags - Pats D, firing on all cylinders, will be too much for Jags
  4. CAR Panthers @ AZ Cardinals - Josh McCown. meet Mr. Rucker. & Mr. Peppers
  5. KC Chiefs vs. DET Lions - Outdoors and after bad loss to DEN = ugly for DET
  6. NO Saints vs. NY Giants - Jessie Palmer to get first start against good D Line
  7. DEN Broncos vs. CLE Browns - Broncos D surging, especially at home
  8. PHI Eagles @ MIA Dolphins - Fiedler's shaky health will be tested by PHI pressure
  9. MIN Vikings @ CHI Bears - Vikings +10 net turnovers; Bears -7
  10. MIA Dolphins vs. PHI Eagles - Ogunleye/Taylor duo one of leagues best
  11. TEN Titans vs. BUF Bills - Bills improving, but TEN D will be overwhelming
  12. STL Rams vs. SEA Seahawks - Rams tough at home under dome

As always, be sure to check the latest injury reports before submitting your roster. Good luck and thanks for supporting The Huddle!