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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch - Week 17
Mike Courter
December 28, 2004
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s To Own Comment
1 SEA Shaun Alexander Alexander’s 154 rushing yards and three TD runs against Arizona last week thrust him atop the NFL in rush yardage (1,616) as well as total touchdowns (19- one ahead of Tomlinson) thus vaulting him to the numero uno spot in our rankings after relinquishing it to LT last week. This Sunday, Atlanta flies to Seattle for a game that Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. has said they will play to win, which should mean a tougher challenge for Alexander to finish out his brilliant 2004 fantasy campaign.
2 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Tomlinson’s two touchdown, 176 total yards performance in Indy last week makes him #1A to Shaun Alexander’s #1 perch in this week’s RB Watch rankings. Last week’s game saw LT set an NFL record by scoring a rushing touchdown in 12 consecutive games and he was equally brilliant in the passing game, catching a short dump off from Brees and busting loose from a Colts defender to cap off a 74 yard touchdown reception. Week 17’s visit from the defenseless Chiefs to San Diego should propel Tomlinson back to the top spot as the regular season ends.
3 NYJ Curtis Martin Martin, along with the rest of his Jets teammates, laid an egg at home in their 23-7 loss to the Patriots. C-Mart managed only 33 yards on 13 carries, along with 44 yards on five receptions. Expect a week 17 bounce for Martin to finish the season strong against a dreadful Rams run defense in a game the Jets must win to secure a playoff spot.
4 HOU Domanick Davis Davis has become the NFL’s Polar Express as his production has gotten stronger the deeper he goes into December. His latest exploits came last week in Jacksonville against the Jags unforgiving front seven, an undesirable fantasy match up that Davis flipped in his favor with 150 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries powering the Texans to an impressive 21-0 road shutout of the Jaguars last week. Look for a great finish from Dom at home in what should be a laugher against the Browns.
5 NYG Tiki Barber Barber celebrated his first ever Pro Bowl berth with his ninth 100 yard game of the season (109 yards on 22 carries), setting a new Giants team record. He also added a touchdown against the Bengals, pushing his season total to 13 (12 rush, one rec). Several more team records will be within Barber’s reach during this week’s game against visiting Dallas on Sunday night.
6 NE Corey Dillon Dillon’s 89 yards on 23 carries provided just enough for New England in their 23-7 win over the Jets securing a first round bye in the playoffs. Even if his playing time is limited this week, a Sunday visit from struggling San Francisco should provide Dillon a favorable platform to finish the year strong.
7 IND Edgerrin James James contributed 127 total yards (86 rushing on 22 carries) to the Colts 34-31 overtime win against visiting San Diego. Tony Dungy has stated this week that he will not be sitting his starters for the final game in Denver, citing the importance of momentum heading into the playoffs and in turn keeping James as a viable starter for week 17.
8 PHI Brian Westbrook Dorsey Levens started in place of Westbrook on Monday night in St. Louis as Andy Reid has relented to public pressure to avoid another TO, which should translate to Westbrook not seeing the field for close to a month when the Eagles play their first playoff game.
9 CIN Rudi Johnson Johnson (19 carries for 31 yards and a score) was sub par against the Giants in Cincinnati’s 23-22 home win last week. He’ll wrap up his 2004 campaign on the road this Sunday in Philadelphia in a meaningless game for the Eagles.
10 PIT Jerome Bettis The Bus was relied on once again as Duce Staley sat and he responded with 117 rushing yards on 27 carries helping Pittsburgh seal the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs with a 20-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bettis’ 250 rushing attempts mark the most he’s carried in a season since 2000 and he needs only 59 more yards to achieve his ninth 1000 yard season, his first since 2001. However, this week’s game in Buffalo against a Bills team on the cusp of a playoff spot has little significance for the Steelers, despite Cowher’s rhetoric about maintaining a winning momentum heading into the playoffs.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Michael Bennett (MIN) – Over the last two weeks,Bennett has emerged as chairman of the Minnesota running back committee. Two weeks ago against the Lions, he gained 102 total yards (51 rush and 51 rec) and last week Vikings fans were treated to the trademark explosion that has been missing for quite some time when Bennett carried 17 times for 92 yards rushing and added 67 yards on three receptions, including an impressive 38 yard touchdown in which he caught a short pass and accelerated through the Green Bay defense for the score. This week will present his toughest challenge to date when the Vikes go outdoors to play the Redskins top-ranked defense in a must win scenario to make the playoffs.

Thomas Jones (CHI) – Jones fantasy production seemed to go into hibernation with the rest of the Bears offense when Rex Grossman went down with a season-ending knee injury in week three. Based on last week’s performance in Detroit in which he ran for 109 yards on 22 carries and caught four balls for 34 yards in Chicago’s 19-13 loss to the Lions, Jones may be awaking from his scoring slumber. This week the Bears host long time rival Green Bay, a team that Jones skewered in week two for 152 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in Chicago’s upset of the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Lee Suggs (CLE) -- Possibly the one silver lining developing in crumbling Cleveland’s 2004 descent is the emergence of Lee Suggs as their go-to back for 2005. Surrounded by deteriorating play by his teammates, Suggs has soldiered on with two consecutive 100 yard rushing games in the last two weeks. Last Sunday in Miami, the 210 pound slasher played the role of smash-mouth power back turning 38 carries into 143 yards rushing in Cleveland’s 10-7 near miss on Monday night against the Dolphins. Suggs should continue his momentum towards 2005 in Houston against the Texans who yield 4.4 yards per carry to opponents.

Sliding Back

Clinton Portis (WAS) – Portis left last week’s 13-10 loss in Dallas early in the second half and did not return due to a chest strain injury, finishing the game with 32 yards on 10 carries. He remains hopeful to play in the home finale against Minnesota but his participation at this point in the week remains sketchy. The much ballyhooed move to Washington in the off season has not paid the dividends that fantasy players and Skins fans had hoped for, moving Portis further down the early 2005 rotisserie draft sheets.

Julius Jones (DAL) – In Jones first three games upon returning from injury, the rookie from Notre Dame averaged 4.6 yards per carry with five touchdowns, including two games of 150 yards or more. In his last three outings, Jones has scratched out 3.2 yards per carry with one score and no 100 yard games. He has a chance to stop the slide on Sunday night against the Giants, who have yielded 4.3 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns on the ground to opponents.