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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch - Week 16
Mike Courter
December 21, 2004
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s To Own Comment
1 SEA LaDainian Tomlinson Contrary to prior seasons, San Diego’s team success now compliments Tomlinson’s fantasy efforts. LT’s 111 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday’s 21-0 snowstorm win in Cleveland helped the Chargers clinch the their first AFC West title in 10 years and marked the fourth time in five weeks that Tomlinson has rushed for over 100 yards. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, LT has scored a rushing touchdown in 11 consecutive games – tying him with John Riggins and George Rodgers for the NFL record. A week 16 date in Indy has all sorts of possibilities.
2 SD Shaun Alexander Alexander loses the top spot in the RB Watch top ten for failing to step up when his team needed him in Seattle’s humbling 37-14 loss to the Jets in the Meadowlands last Sunday. Though he did gain 77 yards on 19 carries, he failed to reach the end zone and lost a fumble, further contributing to the perception that he piles up his stats against all of the softies on Seattle’s schedule and wilts when a stiff defensive challenge presents itself. Alexander and the Hawks receive a bounce back week 16 gift with Arizona coming to town this Sunday.
3 NYJ Curtis Martin Martin has just been tremendous this year. He took advantage of a porous Seattle defense last week, tacking on 134 yards to his NFL-leading 1,511 rushing yards and two more touchdowns giving him 14 total, now tying him for third overall in the league. The Jets welcome longtime nemesis New England to the swamp this weekend, so temper Martin’s fantasy outlook some but he should still grind out a decent fantasy effort.
4 IND Edgerrin James James did manage 69 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against a strong Ravens defensive game plan in a hard-fought 20-10 Colts victory over Baltimore on Sunday night. This week the Chargers bring a surprisingly strong defensive unit to Indianapolis, allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, though they have surrendered 14 touchdowns on the ground.
5 NE Corey Dillon Dillon filed another chapter in what’s been his best fantasy football season to date with 121 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and added a receiving touchdown to boot in the Patriots Monday night 29-28 loss to Miami. Dillon heads to New York to play the Jets on Sunday. He ran for 115 yards on 22 carries in week six against Gang Green.
6 HOU Domanick Davis Davis keyed Houston’s solid 24-5 road win in Chicago by once again exceeding 100 total yards (95 rushing, 22 rec) and scoring his 12 th touchdown of the season. This week he faces a difficult Jaguar front seven who limited him to 56 yards rushing and 39 yards receiving in week eight, though he was still recovering from a leg injury at that time.
7 NYG Tiki Barber Last Saturday, Tom Coughlin’s simplification of the New York offensive game plan helped produce Eli Manning’s best outing to date against visiting Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense. This helped Barber reverse his fantasy slide of recent weeks, gaining 114 total yards and a touchdown in the 33-30 near-miss for Big Blue. Tiki draws a favorable week 16 match up with a trip to Cincinnati, who currently yields 4.3 yds per carry to opponents as well as 10 rushing touchdowns.
8 PHI Brian Westbrook Westbrook did just enough with his 48 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving to help Philly survive a 12-7 scare against lowly Dallas. The loss of Terrell Owens for the season could be a double-edged sword for Westbrook. He will become much more of a focal point in the offense, which is the glass half full. The glass half empty is the lack of a deep threat allowing defenses to bring their safeties up and focus on Westbrook’s underneath routes. On Monday night, the St. Louis Lams defense ought to provide the comfortable climate that the Eagles new offense, sans Owens, will need to get re-acclimated.
9 CIN Rudi Johnson Johnson put forth an admirable effort, 130 yards and a score on 23 carries, against a bullish Buffalo defense in the Bengals 33-17 home loss. Rudi gets the Giants struggling run defense this week. New York allows 4.4 yards per carry and has given up 11 scores on the ground.
10 PIT Jerome Bettis Despite starting only five games in 2004, the 12 year veteran has emerged as a vital cog in Pittsburgh’s playoff run by accumulating 824 rushing yards to date, his highest total in the last three season’s (with two more games remaining). His 13 touchdowns, a career best, rank fourth highest in the NFL. With free agent prize RB Duce Staley battling hamstring injuries all season, the Bus, combined with a rejuvenated offensive line have allowed the Steelers to not miss a beat in their pursuit of Heinz Field advantage for the AFC playoffs.

(Note – this listing considers the rankings of RB’s if a draft was held today)

Climbing Up The Ladder

Michael Pittman (TB) – Pittman’s impressive, steady season-long production has him standing in the RB Watch top 10 on deck circle. After last week’s 131 rushing yards on 24 carries against New Orleans, his season total now stands at 835 yards on 193 carries while also adding 348 yards on 35 catches. His 10 touchdowns this year represent a career best (former record was six).

Larry Johnson (KC) – The fantasy running back’s alternative to Billy Volek, there’s not a hotter player at his position in the last few weeks than Johnson. In his last four games, his 416 rushing yards on 67 carries equates to a 6.2 yards per carry and he has reached pay dirt seven times (six rush, one rec) in that span. Does your league award points for long yardage scores? LJ had a 32 yard scoring run against Denver last week and a pair of 40 plus yard jaunts (46 and 41) in Tennessee two weeks ago. Raider Nation and it’s pathetic defense falls out of Santa’s bag and into Arrowhead this Saturday for a Christmas day treat for Johnson owners.

Sliding Back

Reuben Droughns (DEN) – A few weeks ago, smug Droughns owners viewed last Sunday’s game against the Chiefs and their woeful run defense as manna from heaven, a plum match up during fantasy playoffs. Like we’ve all come to discover at some point, fantasy fortunes can turn on a dime and Droughns recent fall from grace is a perfect illustration of that. Mike Shanahan forced rookie Tatum Bell, fighting a shoulder separation, into the primary back role and the first year back outgained Droughns, 50 yards to 27, while also netting one reception for 58 yards. Jake Plummer also ran for more yards than Droughns and ol’ codger Garrison Hearst was dusted off to steal the goal line carries (a four yard score late in the game) in Denver’s dismal 45-17 collapse in Arrowhead.

Willis McGahee (BUF) – McGahee takes a slight downward slide on the heels of his 25 yards on 11 carries against the Bengals before succumbing to a hyper-extended right knee which appears to make him very iffy for this week’s game against doormat San Francisco, leaving a lot of fantasy points on the table for McGahee owner’s who are embroiled in their playoffs. With Travis Henry shelved for the year, rookie scat back, Shaud Williams, could be in for his first NFL start against the 49ers.

Marshall Faulk (STL) – With performances like Faulk’s 10 carries for 22 yards against a less than formidable Cardinals run defense, especially when St. Louis was reduced to playing third-string QB Jamie Martin in their demoralizing 31-7 loss in Arizona, it’s no wonder that Mad Mike Martz has been a running game-hater all year.