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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch Report - Week 13
Mike Courter
November 28, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson It’s getting silly at this point. What’s next, Tomlinson kicking field goals?  LT has taken a Malcolm X approach to fantasy football this season, scoring “by any means necessary”.  The Chargers franchise back continued his wondrous ways in week twelve, throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates and racking up two more scores and 109 yards on the ground in the Chargers 21-14 win over Oakland.  San Diego heads east to Buffalo in week thirteen to take on the Bills, with Tomlinson on a seemingly unstoppable roll
2 KC Larry Johnson After Johnson’s week twelve Thanksgiving night performance of 157 rushing yards and a touchdown on 34 carries in the Chiefs win over visiting Denver, there is a strong argument to be made that LJ’s ground work this year is even more impressive than last year’s eye-popping production, given the fact that the Chiefs 2006 offensive line has been marginalized, thanks to a rash of injuries and retirements.  Johnson should steamroll the Chiefs week thirteen opponent, the reeling Cleveland Browns
3 STL Stephen Jackson The Rams recent struggles in throwing the ball downfield due to the loss of All Pro tackle Orlando Pace (triceps) has had a silver lining for Jackson in the form of increased opportunities in the passing game.  Jackson’s role as the quick dump-off option for Bulger when his receivers can’t break free resulted in nine receptions for 71 yards, in addition to another fine effort on the ground (121 yards and a touchdown) in the Rams 20-17 comeback win over the 49ers at home last Sunday.   Jackson is in the midst of a breakout season in ’06, one that will vault him near the top of the pre-draft fantasy rankings next year, and a week thirteen home game against the struggling Cardinals will only serve to add further good vibrations
4 PIT Brian Westbrook As expected, Westbrook was great in the Eagles road blowout loss (45-21) last Sunday night against the Colts, rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown, while collecting seven receptions for 46 yards through the air.  Westbrook gets Carolina at home on Monday night in week thirteen and should prosper once again as the Panthers defense seems to play like kittens on the road, as evidenced by week twelve’s yielding of 104 yards on 24 carries to Redskins backup RB Ladell Betts.    
5 PHI Frank Gore Gore reeled off another 100-yard rushing game in week twelve against the Rams, his sixth of the season, slashing for 134 and a score, with four catches for 31 yards to boot.  He bruised his ankle toward the end of the game and the 49ers X-rayed it twice before leaving for California. It would be a shame for the impressive second year back to miss week thirteen’s date with the high-scoring New Orleans Saints.  Gore is likely to play through the injury but have a backup plan ready as the season enters a critical stretch for fantasy football participants
6 SF Willie Parker Parker vanished against the Baltimore Ravens in week twelve, gaining only 22 yards rushing on 10 carries and two receptions for 15 yards, in the Steelers 27-0 surrendering to the Ravens in Baltimore last weekend.  These type of blowout games tend to adversely effect the running back’s stats the most.  Parker should see his fantasy fortunes take a turn for the better in week thirteen against the lowly Buccaneers (3-8) in the comfy confines of Heinz Field this weekend.
7 MIN Chester Taylor Fantasy owners always get the warm fuzzies when one of their two starting running backs delivers when matched against an inferior defense at home and Taylor did just that last Sunday in the Vikings 31-26 home win over the lowly Cardinals.  Taylor rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, while nabbing three passes for 35 yards in a franchise-back performance.  Chet gets a tough draw this weekend against the Bears in Chicago during many fantasy leagues critical week thirteen
8 CIN Rudi Johnson Given the fact that Cincinnati dominated the Browns, 30-0, in week twelve, Johnson should have produced more than his bare minimum output of 64 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries.  If Johnson thought the Browns defense was tough in a Bengals rout, he gets to play the 9-2 Ravens in Baltimore this Thursday night.  Baltimore’s defense is allowing only 3.2 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns to opponents in 11 games so far this year
9 NYG Tiki Barber In the week prior to week twelve’s date with the Tennessee Titans, Barber ran his mouth all week about how the Giants should run the ball through him as Eli Manning continues to struggle, even going so far as to criticize his head coach publicly.  In the classic “be careful what you wish for” scenario, Barber came up small when Big Blue needed him the most, rushing for 82 yards and no touchdowns on 25 carries (3.28 avg.) in the Giants devastating road 24-21 road loss to 4-7 Tennessee, a game in which the Giants had a 21-0 lead at halftime and could have used a strong running game to chew the clock in the second half.  Between his recent retirement announcement and his failure to backup his pre-game media posturing last week, Barber is clearly on the way down and needs a big game in what is now a critical, week thirteen  home game against NFC East division-leader Dallas.  The Cowboys are playing their best defense of the year in recent weeks and would love to put the clamps on the Giants rapidly-aging star back
10 CHI Thomas Jones Jones just missed 100-yards rushing (99) against the Patriots, but was tweaked by backup Cedric Benson’s higher yards per carry (4.6 to Jones’ 4.3) and getting the Bears only touchdown in the 17-13 road loss.  Expect another bland effort from Jones against the league-leading Vikings run defense this weekend, although he could pick up a couple of short distance touchdowns based on the Bears defense expected shutting down slow-footed Brad Johnson

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Joseph Addai  (IND) –  No doubt Peyton Manning and Colts receiver owners expecting a rewarding fantasy shootout with the Eagles will not be celebrating the rookie back’s coming-of-age performance of 171 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 24 carries in the Colts 45-21 Sunday night romp over the Eagles.  Addai had been separating himself from Dominic Rhodes in recent weeks and last weekend’s  explosion cemented his hostile takeover of the Colts backfield.  As Edgerrin James gets exposed as a fraud on a weekly basis, Addai will reap the benefits of running under Manning’s mantle of protection for the remainder of this year and for seasons to come.

Willis McGahee  (BUF) –  It figures that McGahee, who made his fantasy owners suffer through a maddeningly frustrating season this year, scoring one touchdown in his last eight games played and missing the other two with cracked ribs, would make an unexpected, last-minute appearance in the Bills starting lineup against the difficult Jaguars run defense, led by massive Marcus Stroud, and proceed to rattle off 63 yards and TWO touchdowns on only 12 carries.  Most owners probably sat him for other players expecting the worst.  This week’s home game will provide a stiff challenge as well in the form of the Chargers physical front seven, but the Chargers seem to be in high-scoring affairs every week, increasing McGahee’s scoring potential.

Shaun Alexander (SEA) – FINALLY!  Shaun Alexander breaks free from the Madden curse! Alexander used the national stage on Monday night to show the football world that his once-broken foot is functioning fine. His 40 carries (the most in a single game this season) for 201 yards (his rushing total for the season prior to the game was 224 in four games) against one of the better run defenses (Green Bay) in the league put the NFC and the fantasy world on notice that the former NFL MVP is ready to reclaim his place amongst the league’s elite running backs.

Sliding Back

Denver running game – Quarterback Jake Plummer has rightfully become the fall guy in Denver’s recent offensive struggles,  but how would he have done with a consistent running game this season to keep defenses honest?  On Thanksgiving night, Tatum Bell was once again an injury-induced no-show, Mike Bell rang hollow with 28 yards on 10 carries and Damien Nash pitched in with zero yards on four carries.  The fruit basket of Denver running backs have all had their moments at one point in the season, but there’s no consistency or uniformity and that seems to have created a drag on the offense.

New York Jets running game -  A true litmus test for how shoddy the Jets backfield has become was their week twelve effort against one of the worst run defenses in the league, the Houston Texans.  The Jets team rushing total of 27 yards on 26 carries from five different ball-carriers came against a run defense that previously yielded 4.2 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns on the ground.  And no near term cure or solution is in sight.