Jonathan Stewart, Panthers - Both backs are on a serious roll right now, but DeAngelo Williams is playing at a phenomenal level and is already at the top of the running back mountain, so Stewart is the riser this week. Despite Williams going well over 100 yards rushing (19 carries for 186 yards- a Panthers franchise record, and two touchdowns) in the same game, Stewart cranked out 115 yards and two scores on just 15 carries in the Panthers 38-23 Monday night win in their NFC South divisional showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. More impressive was that it came against the stingy Buccaneer run defense that has never been shredded like this in recent memory.
Ryan Grant, Packers - Grant’s high level of effectiveness (19 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown) helped keep the Packers close in a home game they eventually lost to the Houston Texans, 24-21. Green Bay will need Grant’s production in the run game to help control the ball and protect the Packers injury-ravaged secondary to have a shot at a respectable 8-8 finish in the first year of the post-Favre era.
Brian Westbrook, Eagles - After going scoreless in the four games prior to this week’s 48-20 win over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night, Westbrook appeared to be mired in a struggle that seemed to have no end. The Eagles holiday feast on the Cardinals provided a re-launch for Westy back into fantasy relevance, with 110 yards on the ground, 20 as a receiver, and FOUR touchdowns. The former Villanova product single-handedly won many fantasy head-to-head match-ups with this single-game points eruption, erasing any lingering doubts created by the past four weeks of underperformance.
Pierre Thomas, Saints - Despite the continued presence of Deuce McAllister in the Saints RB mix thanks to a stay of execution from a league suspension due to the water pill fiasco that contains a banned substance, Thomas continued to put in increasingly good work in week 14 as the thunder element to Reggie Bush’s lightning in the Saints backfield. Thomas rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and also caught a second touchdown (seven yard reception) as a vital component in the Saints 29-25 victory over the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons. And his emergence helped open up the opposing defense and created space for Reggie Bush to begin to regain his early-season effectiveness.
Reggie Bush, Saints - In week two of his return from injuring his knee more than a month ago, Bush flashed his trademark explosiveness, averaging 8.0 yards per carry (10 carries for 80 yards) and three receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown. Last weekend’s performance was a reassuring sign to fantasy owners that they can insert Bush with confidence into their playoff week lineups, typically beginning this weekend.
Tatum Bell, Broncos - Not a riser to get too excited about, but a strained hamstring injury incurred by rising rookie Peyton Hillis in the Broncos 24-17 win over the Chiefs has opened the door for the oft-injured, journeyman back, who was originally brought back to the team due to the unusual level of injuries that occurred to the Broncos RB depth chart. Bell played pretty well when given the chance against the Chiefs, gaining 52 yards on 11 carries and 16 yards on two receptions. Initial reports have Hillis missing the remainder of the regular season and could be out for as long as six weeks.
Tashard Choice, Cowboys - Subbing for injured starter Marion Barber, Choice drew the unenviable task of charging into the teeth of one the league’s nasty defenses, especially at home in the winter elements, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rookie from Georgia Tech performed admirably, grinding out 166 total yards (88 rushing, 78 receiving) in the Cowboys disappointing 20-13 road loss to the Steelers. Should he be called upon in week fifteen in the divisional showdown with the New York Giants, fantasy owners should feel an increased confidence level in playing Choice if they are in a tough spot with their RB depth.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings - Despite rushing for 102 yards on 23 carries against the Lions in the Vikings hard-fought 20-16 win, Peterson was a disappointment last Sunday and struggled once again against one of the worst defenses in the league. Out of his three fumbles lost on the season, two have come against the hapless Lions, and he had two fumbles that didn’t count in this game, as one was recovered by a teammate and the other was ruled a non-fumble. In two games against winless Detroit, Peterson has failed to reach the end zone and for fantasy owners in a critical week fourteen contest to gain a seat in the respective league’s playoffs for weeks fifteen and sixteen, Peterson’s head-scratching scoring dearth against the lowliest team in the NFL was a damaging blow.
Brandon Jacobs, Giants - Bad time for the 6-4, 262 pound power back to start to breaking down physically. It started a few weeks ago when he was pulled from the lineup in the game against Arizona after telling reporter’s he was fine all week. Then we thought everything was okay when he played in week thirteen against the Redskins and rushed for 71 yards and a score on 21 carries. In last Sunday’s 20-14 loss to division rival Philadelphia, Jacobs experienced a recurrence of the knee injury suffered a few weeks ago after looking good (10 carries for 52 yards) early in the game, casting doubt on fantasy owners ability to trust him in the next few weeks of playoff contests.
Marshawn Lynch, Bills - Bad time of year for the team around him to fall apart but that is exactly what has happened to a lion of a running back who has the best of intentions to produce, but is hampered by elements outside his control. This is a team in serious decay, led by the disintegration of the crucial quarterback position, which has no cure between JP Losman or Trent Edwards. In the next two weeks, Lynch and the Bills will travel to New York to play the Jets in a crucial divisional game and then to Denver, so the difficulty of the opponent won’t get any easier.