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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Sunday Game Recaps - Week 13
John Tuvey
December 1, 2008
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Titans 47, Lions 10

This one went about as expected. Chris Johnson had his way with the Lions for a while to the tune of 125 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns; when he got bored LenDale White started working off some soon-to-be-consumed calories with 23 carries for 106 yards and two scores of his own. Kerry Collins only threw 18 times and Vince Young shook off some rust with a 54-yard completion to fullback Ahmard Hall. Rob Bironas got his kicks as well, with four field goals and five PATs.

There wasn’t much to see. The lone Lions TD was set up by a Kerry Collins fumble; they gave Kevin Smith first crack at a score but he was stymied, then Daunte Culpepper hit backup tight end Michael Gaines for a two-yard score. Smith carried 12 times for 22 yards, with a long run of 21; the Lions only had the ball for 23 minutes, so there wasn’t much time for more. Calvin Johnson caught five balls for 66 yards, but it was clear from the outset the Lions belonged on a platter on your grandma’s table rather than on national television.

Fantasy Impact: Smith and Johnson have talent, but Johnson may be the only starter because Detroit will be abandoning the run early on. The Smash and Dash backfield has a couple more weeks of fantasy relevance before that Week 16 date with the Steelers. It’d be tough to recommend any other Titan outside of Bironas for use on a playoff-bound fantasy squad.

Cowboys 34, Seahawks 9

This was the closest game of the day; yep, that’s how bad the football was on Turkey Day. Tony Romo continued to prove his pinky has healed enough for him to exploit bad defenses with a second straight 300-yard, three-TD outing. Of course, Terrell Owens was involved with 98 yards and a touchdown, and backup tight end Martellus Bennett scored again, but Thanksgiving also marked the return of Jason Witten. While the rest of us were expanding our guts, Witten was tightening his around that injured rib while making nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. Marion Barber scored before leaving with a knee injury, and Tashard Choice proved he could be a necessary handcuff down the stretch with 11 carries for 57 yards.

Matt Hasselbeck threw for 287 yards, 105 of them to rookie tight end John Carlson. And aside from three Olindo Mare field goals that was the extent of the fireworks for the Seahawks. Julius Jones’ 11-37 afternoon looked familiar to Cowboy fans, while Maurice Morris touched the ball nine times and produced just 33 yards.

Fantasy Impact: Carlson may be the only Seahawk worth plugging into fantasy lineups between now and the end of the season. Romo says he’s taking off the splint next week, and he certainly looks ready. The return of Witten to the passing game helps both Romo and Witten’s fantasy owners, but it likely means Roy Williams is unstartable as he’s back to a fourth or fifth option. Obviously, Barber’s status will be key as the waiver wire heats up for Choice.

Eagles 48, Cardinals 20

Proof that benching works, right? Or maybe, just maybe, the return of Brian Westbrook—not the shell we’ve seen for the past month, but the real deal—helped Donovan McNabb put last week’s quick hook behind him. The Don shredded Arizona’s secondary for 260 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Westbrook. Westy added two rushing scores and 110 yards on the ground—quite possibly while he was sitting on fantasy benches after looking beaten and battered over the past month and limping into this game following a shortened week. The receiving was spread amongst seven targets, with DeSean Jackson (6-76-1) and Jason Avant (4-25-1) scoring the touchdowns. Kevin Kolb came on in this game as well, contributing three kneel-downs to the effort.

Thanksgiving has not been kind to the Cardinals, who dropped their eighth straight Turkey Day affair. Once again they were plagued by no ground game, attempting just 10 rushes for 25 yards. That leads to a 20-minute deficit in time of possession (yes, you read that correctly; Philly had the ball twice as long as the Cards), which most certainly does not lend itself to winning ballgames. Kurt Warner threw three touchdowns, but the first didn’t come until his club was down 21 points and they never got any closer. His string of 300-yard games ended as well, as he could muster just 235. Larry Fitzgerald caught two scores as part of a five-catch, 65-yard afternoon; Anquan Boldin (5-63) matched everything except the scores—which is kind of a big deal, fantasy-wise—and Steve Breaston (6-45-1) stayed relevant as well.

Fantasy Impact: Maybe Warner got his bad game out of the way before the fantasy playoffs start. I continue to be amazed at how Tim Hightower went from an impact fantasy player as a reserve to a starting gig in which he’s of dramatically less import. It might have been better had Westbrook struggled again; he’s facing tough NFC East matchups two of the next three weeks, and had he continued to put up subdued numbers it would have been easier to bench him. Now, you’ll have decisions to make.

49ers 10, Bills 3

The 49ers drove 72 yards for the only touchdown of this game, then mustered all of 86 yards the rest of the game. Frank Gore touched the ball 27 times and produced just 89 yards, with a long gain of 12. Shaun Hill proved he can manage a game, finishing with 161 yards and a touchdown toss to Isaac Bruce. But aside from Gore, it’s unlikely you had any Niners going on your fantasy squad. And aside from Bruce’s 6-67-1, there wasn’t anything to see there anyway.

It was a harbinger of things to come when Rian Lindell shanked a 20-yard chip shot to cap an 18-play, 85-yard drive midway through the second quarter. Trent Edwards threw for 112 yards before exiting with a groin injury; J.P. Losman picked up the slack with 93 yards, but neither could find the end zone. Lee Evans was the team’s top receiver with seven catches for 80 yards. The offensive star of the day was Marshawn Lynch, who carried 16 times for 134 yards—his best output of the season. However, he received just one carry inside the San Fran 10 while Fred Jackson carried on two of the seven plays Buffalo ran inside the 49ers’ 10.

Fantasy Impact: Lynch has been a disappointment all season long, delivering mediocre yardage efforts with the occasional touchdown. Now he gets a soft matchup and puts up big yards—and the Bills don’t give him a chance to close the deal. Gore’s yardage effort was a fantasy helper, assuming you don’t work on a per-carry basis, but the lack of a touchdown was disconcerting. So was the fact that after the opening drive the Niners didn’t take another snap inside the Buffalo red zone until they kneeled down twice at the end of the game.

Ravens 34, Bengals 3

The Ravens could do just about anything they wanted to against Cincy, and what they wanted to do was throw the deep ball to Mark Clayton. Five catches, 164 yards, and a touchdown later Clayton had a monster effort that helped Joe Flacco put up a career-high 280 yards and match a personal best with two scores. Flacco’s numbers might have been better but Clayton also threw a pass, a 32-yard completion to Derrick Mason for a touchdown. Flacco’s other score went to Todd Heap, who has come on of late. When they weren’t abusing the Cincy secondary the Ravens were running the ball 43 times for 147 yards to gain an 18-minute time of possession advantage.

The lone highlights of the day for Cincinnati were a 46-yard completion to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, which was preceded by Housh trying to lay a block on Ray Lewis during a Ryan Fitzpatrick scramble. Care to guess who got the better end of that collision? Fitzpatrick was the team’s leading rusher as Cedric Benson and Chris Perry comb ined for 28 yards on 13 carries. Housh and Chad Johnson caught four passes each, accounting for 109 of the team’s 124 passing yards. Cincy’s lone trip across midfield resulted in a field goal and was the only Bengals’ possession amongst their first dozen that didn’t result in a punt.

Fantasy Impact: Housh and CJ are no better than fantasy WR3s at this juncture, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Bengals started auditioning Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson to see if they should retain Housh and/or unload Ocho. Baltimore continues to rotate its backs, to the frustration of fantasy folks—especially those with Willis McGahee, who was active but did not play. It’ll be tough to buy the Flacco-led Ravens as an aerial circus the rest of the way, but Clayton is making a serious push for fantasy relevancy.

Buccaneers 23, Saints 20

Jeff Garcia’s 9-for-23 for 119 yards and a touchdown doesn’t look all that impressive. However, his 42 rushing yards saved a couple drives for the Bucs and provided them with just enough offense to back up a strong defensive effort. Warrick Dunn was a workhorse, carrying 22 times for 74 yards—never more than nine at a time—but he ceded the money shot to Carnell Williams. Surprisingly, Dunn didn’t catch a ball as Garcia’s nine completions were contained to a tight ends Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore and wideouts Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, with Bryant’s 3-63-1 leading the way.

The weather wasn’t particularly conducive to throwing 47 times in 65 offensive plays, but that’s exactly what Drew Brees did. He produced 296 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked three times—twice in the final three minutes. Marques Colston posted his second 100-yard game since coming back from his thumb injury, while Lance Moore scored for the fifth straight game. Reggie Bush was also back on the field, but he carried just three times (for a total of zero yards) and caught five balls for 32 yards; Pierre Thomas handled the bulk of the rushing chores with 11 carries for 34 yards and also caught two passes, one for a touchdown.

Fantasy Impact: Throwing for 296 and two in the rain, on the road, against the Bucs… forget the picks, Brees is clearly locked in for fantasy playoffs. Moore is still his go-to guy, but Bush’s return and Colston’s involvement make all elements of the Saints’ passing game favorable plays for the stretch run. Williams looks to be back just in time to make a splash in touchdown-heavy leagues. He proved last week that he can hold up to a workload, but the Bucs proved this week they’d rather give that load to Dunn; the goal line work, however, appears to be Cadillac’s.

Giants 23, Redskins 7

You’d think that without Plaxico Burress the Giants wouldn’t have a shot (sorry, had to do it). Instead, Eli Manning threw for 305 yards and a touchdown, leaning on Amani Toomer (5-85-1) and Plax’s replacement, Domenik Hixon (5-71). Derrick Ward also contributed in the passing game, with five catches for 75 yards in addition to 10 carries for 30 yards. Brandon Jacobs (21-71-1) did the heavy lifting in the ground game as the Giants held a 10-minute time-of-possession advantage. And, yawn, the Giants’ defense flexed its muscles once again in holding the Redskins to single digits.

Clinton Portis battled injury and the Giants’ defense all day long, and he came out on the short end of both. His 22 yards on 11 carries cost him the NFL’s rushing lead, and his failure to convert a fourth-and-one early in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Skins. Jason Campbell was unable to pick up the slack, with 232 passing yards and another 38 on five carries. Chris Cooley was the team’s top pass-catcher with six grabs for 71 yards; mix in Todd Yoder (3-25) and fullback/tight end Mike Sellers (1-20) and tight ends accounted for half of the Redskins passing yardage while wide receivers Santana Moss (4-55) and Antwaan Randle El (4-37) struggled.

Fantasy Impact: Portis has carried fantasy teams this far, but he is clearly banged up—and next week’s prime time affair with the Ravens doesn’t promise to be the cure-all for what ails him. The Giants may be without Hopalong Burress for some time, be it due to the self-inflicted flesh wound or some sort of league or team discipline, but it doesn’t appear as if they’ll miss a beat. Hixon appears to be the guy who’ll see the biggest uptick in production, but don’t overlook Toomer, who has three touchdowns in the last five games.

Dolphins 16, Rams 12

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but against the 2009 Rams it doesn’t really have to be. Ronnie Brown could have had a bigger day had the Dolphins given him more than 15 carries; as it was, he produced 48 yards and a touchdown. Just think of what that stat line might have looked like had Ricky Williams not siphoned a dozen touches and 54 yards. Ted Ginn (4-55) and new starter Davone Bess (6-84) were the only Dolphins with more than one catch in a passing game that netted Chad Pennington (13 for 23) just 166 yards.

Hey, Steven Jackson is back! Limited all week in practice, Jackson returned to the lineup with 21 carries for 94 yards and was far and away the offensive star for the Rams. Marc Bulger completed 16 passes to teammates and three to the Dolphins, who collectively were his second-favorite receiver; Dane Looker (6-52) was his first.

Fantasy Impact: Josh Brown is earning his money carrying the St. Louis offense. His four field goals accounted for all of the Rams’ scoring, as he has done in three of the past four games. The Dolphins continue to spread the ball around, and their offense simply isn’t potent enough to yield helpful fantasy numbers for both Brown and Williams on a weekly basis. In other words, Ricky is seeing just enough work to screw things up for Brown owners.

Colts 10, Browns 6

It’s not all that often the Colts go without an offensive touchdown. How is that even possible? On three of their first six drives Indy turned the ball over on their first play. On the other three drives the Colts marched 12 plays each time, only to wind up with a total of three points. The weather wasn’t helping, but the conditions are the same for both teams and Cleveland still outgained and outpossessed the Colts. Peyton Manning threw for just 125 yards, Reggie Wayne was the only pass-catcher to top 30 yards, and 26 rushes between Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes netted 92 yards. If not for a defensive touchdown Indy would have flushed this one right down the toilet.

The game plan had to be getting Jamal Lewis as many carries as possible in order to keep the Indy offense off the field. While Jamal carried 24 times for 77 yards, Cleveland may have been better served keeping Manning on the field given the way he was turning things over. Derek Anderson was ordinary in completing 16 of 26 for 110 yards before exiting with a knee injury; Ken Dorsey threw two incompletions and a pick in relief. The only receiver to top 20 yards was Braylon Edwards, who managed to hold on to two balls for 36 yards.

Fantasy Impact: Anderson’s injury looks to be serious, and with Brady Quinn already on IR the fantasy fates of Edwards and Kellen Winslow will rest with Dorsey; that’s not exactly what anyone with a vested interest in Browns wants to hear. This was a matchup the Colts should have exploited, rain or no rain. That the undermanned Browns were able to keep not just elements but the entire Indy offense in check is bad news for those who went all in with Colts when Manning & Co. started picking up steam midseason, under the guise of having a primrose path through the fantasy playoffs.

Panthers 35, Packers 31

Carolina ran the ball 27 times in 44 plays, yet lost the battle of time possession by 16 minutes. And while the 72 yards and four touchdowns from DeAngelo Williams—and even the 58 yards Jonathan Stewart contributed on four carries before cramping up—look good on the stat sheet, the difference maker for the Panthers was Steve Smith. His four catches resulted in 105 yards and came at critical times—none more critical than just prior to the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Actually, Jake Delhomme had success throwing downfield early as well, hitting Muhsin Muhammad for a 44-yard gain on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage… only to have Muhammad fumble. Delhomme finished with 177 yards on 12 completions, with 134 of those yards coming on three deep balls.

It took the Pack a little time to get going, but after three punts they put together 10- and 12-play drives to get on the board. Things really heated up in the second half as Green Bay scored on its first four possessions, the capper a 16-play, nine-minute march for the go-ahead field goal. At least some of the spark can be attributed to Brandon Jackson, who carried 11 times for 80 yards after replacing Ryan Grant (12-39), who left with a sprained thumb. However, the heavy lifting was once again done by Aaron Rodgers, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 298 yards and three scores; only a late interceptions marred another fine performance. Greg Jennings (8-91-1, plus a two-point conversion) and Donald Driver (5-83-1) were Rodgers’ favorite targets, though Donald Lee’s four-catch, 37-yard, one-TD outing suggests he may be exhibiting some of that Favre fondness for the tight end.

Fantasy Impact: Word is that Grant could have returned despite some swelling in his hand, but Jackson’s effectiveness could tweak the Green Bay backfield rotation—at exactly the wrong time for those looking to Grant for contributions down the stretch. Carolina looks to have its passing game back, but the two-headed backfield appears to be completely the domain of DeAngelo. Cramping up? Seriously? In Green Bay in late November?

Falcons 22, Chargers 16

The way this season has gone, it wasn’t all that surprising that Michael Turner (31-120) was the best running back on the field. The shocker may have been that Matt Ryan was the best quarterback on the field. Leaning heavily once again on Roddy White (6-112), Ryan completed 17 of 23 for 207 yards and a couple touchdowns. Unfortunately for fantasy folks, his TD targets—tight end Justin Peelle (3-38-1) and third receiver Harry Douglas (3-13-1) weren’t the usual suspects.

Philip Rivers has ruled his roost, with big yardage and multiple touchdowns in every home game… until this one. Didn’t see it coming, either, as the Falcons’ secondary has been more on the fantasy-friendly side this season. Rivers completed 17 of 30 passes for just 149 yards, with Malcolm Floyd (5-59) usurping Chris Chambers (1-2) and Vincent Jackson (no catches); Antonio Gates (3-27) was an afterthought as well. In fact, aside from Floyd all the Chargers’ passing game did was let LaDainian Tomlinson (5-42) make up for a lousy day on the ground that saw him produce 24 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Fantasy Impact: Still waiting on that last-season surge from LT. And waiting… aaaand waiting. Starting to think that this year it ain’t coming. And the two dogs in three weeks from Rivers is anything but reassuring. Turner, Ryan, and White, meanwhile, continue to exceed expectations. A few more touchdowns would be nice, but the 100-yard games are a solid substitute in most scoring formats.

Chiefs 20, Raiders 13

Something had to give as the Chiefs reacclimated Larry Johnson to their offensive game plan. This week, against a Raiders defense that struggles mightily to stop the run, Johnson shouldered a larger share of the load with 24 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. More LJ meant less Tyler Thigpen, and by extension less Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. Thigpen finished with 162 yards on 15-for-22 passing, and he kicked in 48 rushing yards on 11 carries as well. Gonzo was the top target with eight catches for 110 yards, but while Bowe was the Chiefs’ second-leading receiver all that meant was two catches for 27 yards.

Hey, another offensive touchdown for the Raiders! It didn’t come on Oakland’s fake field goal attempt; that led to a Chiefs’ defensive touchdown. It came after a Raiders pick set the offense up inside the five, with Justin Fargas adding a touchdown to a productive 18-carry, 82-yard afternoon. Where was Darren McFadden, last week’s goal line guy? Slogging through a seven-carry, 13-yard rushing performance or chipping in three catches for 50 yards to the passing game. In fact, JaMarcus Russell completed just one pass to a wide receiver, and it went for zero yards. Tight end Zach Miller (5-79) accounted for more than half of Russell’s 132 passing yards; the rest went to Fargas and McFadden.

Fantasy Impact: McFadden’s 50 receiving yards and sub-two yards per carry rushing average smack of Reggie Bush; is that to be his NFL fate? At present Fargas is still the primary ball-carrier, which means he’s the guy in line for helpful fantasy numbers down the stretch. The return of LJ in KC doesn’t appear to have cut into Gonzo’s productivity, but if Herm Edwards’ offense is back to a run-heavy system there may no longer be enough left over for Bowe—and certainly for targets further down the list, like Mark Bradley.

Steelers 33, Patriots 10

Down 10-3 early, in weather hardly conducive to mounting a rally. And yet the Steelers ripped off 30 unanswered points, using all the weapons at their disposal. Ben Roethlisberger threw touchdowns to Santonio Holmes (2-28-1) and Hines Ward (5-37-1), though Heath Miller (4-60) and Nate Washington (3-41) were his top targets. Willie Parker (16-87) and Mewelde Moore (12-67) provided a potent two-headed ground game, but it was Gary Russell who capped the scoring with a one-yard run. And two weeks after losing a defensive touchdown to a blown call, the Steelers defense returned an interception 89 yards… only to be hauled down one yard shy of paydirt.

The Pats had a chance to score just before halftime and go up three or even seven; instead, Randy Moss dropped on potential touchdown and failed to come up with another on a tipped pass before Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. That was as close as New England came; four of their first five drives in the second half ended with turnovers. Sammy Morris (10-45-1) scored the Pats’ only touchdown and was the team’s primary ball-carrier, but Kevin Faulk (6-73 plus a team-leading 7-48 as a receiver) was the most effective. Moss managed just 45 yards on four catches, but perhaps even more surprising were the four catches Wes Welker mustered.

Fantasy Impact: One of the pregame shows suggested the Patriots might actually shop Tom Brady and roll with Cassel as their quarterback; back-to-back 400-yard games can do that. This week’s 169 and no touchdowns—with two interceptions—should snap everyone back to reality. A late 31-yard run made Parker’s afternoon look better than perhaps it really was, but the real problem fantasy-wise is the 12 carries Moore received—and the Russell touchdown—even with Parker still supposedly healthy. All the NFL needs at this juncture is another RBBC.

Broncos 34, Jets 17

The 357 yards and two touchdown tosses from Jay Cutler weren’t entirely unexpected; that Brandon Marshall didn’t account for either touchdown or more than 55 yards… well, that was a little unexpected. Peyton Hillis gashing the same run defense that held the mighty Titans in check last week for 129 yards on 22 carries… that was a lot unexpected. Denver’s early defensive touchdown set the table, and after a bomb to Eddie Royal (5-84-1) and a Matt Prater field goal the Broncos turned it over to… their defense? Yep, up 27-14 at the half, Denver’s much-maligned defense held the Jets to three third-quarter points en route to the win.

The Jets were supposed to run all over Denver, and Thomas Jones’ 16-138-2 didn’t disappoint. However, playing from behind for most of the game should have played right into Brett Favre’s strengths. Instead, Favre went 23-for-43 with 247 yards but failed to toss a touchdown and turned the ball over on downs three times in the second half. Dustin Keller (7-77) continues to be Favre’s favorite target, at the expense of Jerricho Cotchery (4-40) and Laveranues Coles (2-2). Leon Washington did little on the ground (two carries, four yards) but turned three catches into 60 yards.

Fantasy Impact: Keller’s continued development is killing Cotch and Coles, who have two touchdowns and no 100-yard efforts between them over the past five games. Hillis bested a defense that has shut down almost every other back to face it this season, and he did it right through the middle—though at times he found no Kris Jenkins in his way due to situational substitutions and Denver spreading the field. You’d like to think that even if Selvin Young gets healthy Hillis will continue to be the go-to guy down the stretch. You’d like to think that, but remember that this is Mike Shanahan we’re talking about.

Vikings 34, Bears 14

Minnesota had punted on four of their first five drives and were looking at going down 14-3 when they stuffed the Bears on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line. One play later Bernard Berrian was in the opposite end zone on the business end of the longest passing play in NFL history and the Vikings offense was rolling. Adrian Peterson produced 100 of his 131 rushing yards in the first half, Gus Frerotte (210 and 1 plus a rushing score) and Chester Taylor (10-46-1) joined Peterson in the end zone, and the Vikings stand alone atop the NFC North. The passing game did little outside the bomb to Berrian—in fact, tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser each recorded one catch for 20 yards to rank second behind Berrian amongst Vikings receivers—but that’s to be expected from a team built on defense and running the football.

Again, the tide to this game turns on Chicago’s inability to punch it in from the one, though the sequence goes a bit beyond that. The Vikings had forced a punt before an after-the-whistle penalty gave the Bears new life. Matt Forte carried to the one, but a pass to Greg Olsen was incomplete and fullback Jason Davis and Forte (twice) were all stuffed shy of the stripe. Outside of his failure to pick up a yard Forte was solid with 96 rushing yards and 29 (with a touchdown grab) as a receiver. And outside of Forte the Bears offered little offensively. Devin Hester took a slant 63 yards for the game’s first score, but that constituted the bulk of Kyle Orton’s 153 passing yards. And following a third-quarter touchdown drive set up by an interception return inside the Vikings’ five, the Bears threw three picks and punted three times on their next six possessions.

Fantasy Impact: Forte is getting it done against defenses good and bad, but Orton’s first game back following his ankle injury did little to kickstart the Chicago passing game. Hester always kills the Vikings, so this game may not be a harbinger of what’s to come. Peterson absorbed a ton of hits but delivered just as much punishment as he received. Still, the banging cost him a touchdown when Taylor came on in relief and scored. However, both Vikings fans and Peterson owners will gladly “settle” for a weekly TD and triple-digit yardage from All Day the rest of the way.

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