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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Sunday Game Recaps - Week 17
John Tuvey
December 29, 2008
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Falcons 31, Rams 27

Atlanta still had a little to play for (a two seed and a bye if the Panthers faltered in New Orleans), and as they have all season they leaned on Michael Turner, who responded with 208 yards and one touchdown, with another near score stripped from him at the stripe. Jerious Norwood kicked in the clinching touchdown run and set up another score with a long kickoff return as the running game continued to take the pressure off Matt Ryan. The rookie's 10-21-160-1-2 was a little shaky, but he involved Michael Jenkins (4-72) as well as Roddy White (3-48-1); the duo combined for seven of his 10 completions and 120 of his 160 yards.

The Rams did anything but lay down in the season finale, controlling the ball for 35 minutes, rolling up 408 yards, and not turning the ball over—on the road, against a playoff team; those aren't the hallmarks of a 2-14 club. St. Louis's success can largely be attributed to Steven Jackson, who rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two scores and added 54 receiving yards on five grams. The ground game set up Marc Bulger nicely, and he responded with 230 yards and a touchdown, completing 11 passes to Torry Holt (6-90) and Donnie Avery (5-40-1).

Fantasy Impact: If Jackson's name is on the petition endorsing Jim Haslett, the Rams' front office should pay attention. His Week 17 performance reminded fantasy owners what he's capable of, and if anyone was paying attention likely vaulted him back into top-five consideration. Turner also solidified his position at or very near the top of the rankings, but Norwood continues to pluck TDs from his plate; will he be a Derrick Ward-like complement next year or more of a vulture?

Patriots 13, Bills 0

The Patriots threw all of eight passes on the afternoon thanks to gusting winds that tilted the goal posts. And while Matt Cassel was an efficient six-of-eight for 78 yards, he did the bulk of his damage with his feet by picking up a pair of drive-extending fourth downs on scrambles. Sammy Morris (24-85) was the workhorse, while Lamont Jordan (20-64-1) carried the rest of the load and scored the game's only touchdown. With so little going on on the passing game, neither Wes Welker (2-26) or Randy Moss (1-13) did anything of note.

No Marshawn Lynch? No problem. Fred Jackson carried 27 times for 136 yards as the Bills kept the ball on the ground as much as possible—especially when going into the wind. A gust pushed—actually, more like yanked out of the air and violently shoved—Rian Lindell's only attempt wide right, and an ill-advised scrum at the end of the first half prevented the Bills from getting off another game-tying attempt. Forced to throw Trent Edwards (14-25-128) didn't fare poorly given the conditions, but no completion went for more than 18 yards. Somewhat surprisingly, Lee Evans had success in the short game with five catches for 63 yards.

Fantasy Impact: Lynch has been little more than a tease through his first two NFL seasons, and Jackson's success at minimum gives the Bills options in the backfield—much to the chagrin of those looking to Lynch as a potential fantasy workhorse. Speaking of workhorses, Jordan carried 52 times for 239 yards and four touchdowns over the past three weeks—Bill Belichick's personal "screw you" to fantasy owners who thought they had figured out New England's backfield. As a collective the Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in fantasy points by running backs—ahead of the Falcons, the Vikings, and the Ravens, amongst others—yet unless you had Kevin Faulk in a PPR league didn't have a single back worthy of every-week starter status.

Bengals 16, Chiefs 6

Cedric Benson carried 25 times for 111 yards and the team's only touchdown, helping the Bengals control the ball for nearly 38 minutes while stating his case for a starting job in 2009 and guiding Cincy to a third straight draft-position-dropping win. With both Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh inactive, Andre Caldwell made his push for playing time next year with five catches for 34 yards and four carries for 49 yards.

On a day where a dozen backs reached triple digits, the once-proud Larry Johnson mustered just 18 on 10 carries before announcing that he wanted out of Kansas City; hey L.J., at 1.8 yards per carry it's gonna take you a while. Tyler Thigpen (19-36-191-1) still knows where to throw the ball, hitting Dwayne Bowe 10 times for 103 yards and hooking up with Tony Gonzalez (5-53-1) for a late score.

Fantasy Impact: The Chiefs have plenty of other needs to address, so Thigpen should be back at quarterback in 2009. That's great news for Bowe and may even be enough to keep Gonzo happy. But as tough as LJ will be to unload given his contract it's just as tough to see him fitting into the KC backfield next year; worse, we didn't get to see enough of Kolby Smith or Jamaal Charles to get a good read on how they might fit in 2009. The Bengals cleaned out Ryan Fitzpatrick's locker after Sunday's win, which not only suggests they're banking on Carson Palmer returning next season but also indicates they don't see the UFA as a fit for their vertical offense. Given the circumstances he faced this season, Fitz has likely earned at least a look from quarterback-deficient teams who use a West Coast style.

Texans 31, Bears 24

That Matt Schaub (27-36-328-2) would spend the afternoon throwing to Andre Johnson (10-148-2) surprised no one. That Houston's 50/50 offense (36 passes, 36 runs) would control the ball for almost 38 minutes against a Bears defense that had been willing their team into playoff contention... well, that was a bit surprising. Steve Slaton's 92 yards and a touchdown rounded out Houston's balanced offense; the rookie also contributed 36 receiving yards on five grabs. However, Ryan Moats swiped a dozen carries and a touchdown—which makes little sense until you remember Texans coach Gary Kubiak understudied at the feet of backfield saboteur Mike Shanahan.

Seems to me a team with Matt Forte on its roster and a playoff berth on the line should a) give more than 16 touches to Forte and b) control the ball for more than 22:26. Forte produced 75 yards, making him the second-most productive Bear behind Devin Hester (six catches, 85 yards). Kyle Orton's 244 yards and two touchdowns give credence to the Bears' endorsement of him as their 2009 quarterback.

Fantasy Impact: Hester's transition to full-time wide receiver is going well; he and Greg Olsen give the Bears at least the start of a receiving corps capable of making Orton a viable fantasy quarterback next year. Johnson has to enter into any conversation regarding the first wide receiver off the draft board in 2009; a healthy Schaub should be involved in similar discussions involving his position, but that injury history likely bumps him to the bottom of the first tier.

Vikings 20, Giants 19

You saw the best and the worst of all things Purple, capsulized in their NFC North-clinching win over the Giants' junior varsity. Adrian Peterson rushed for 103 yards, a number that included a 67-yard touchdown, but he also fumbled a league-leading ninth time and produced just 26 yards on 11 second-half carries. Tarvaris Jackson completed 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards, including a 54-yard scoring strike to Bernard Berrian, but his telegraphed red-zone pick nearly cost the Vikings the game. With ex-Giant Visanthe Shiancoe (2-14) stymied by his former mates and youngsters like Sidney Rice (1-9) and Aundrae Allison (no catches) ineffective, Jackson turned to Bobby Wade (4-98) as his possession receiver.

The Giants played without Brandon Jacobs and used David Carr at quarterback in the second half, yet they still held the ball for 34 minutes; only a John Carney miss in the fourth quarter left the door open for the Vikings to knock off a Giants team with nothing to play for. Domenik Hixon (4-62-1) isn't Plaxico Burress, but he's the best approximation the Giants have and it was enough for a score against the Vikings. Eli Manning certainly auditioned plenty of players for that role, as nine different Giants caught passes. Derrick Ward picked up enough yardage to give the G-Men two 1,000-yard backs, but he remains at his most effective when serving as Jacobs' complement rather than the load-carrier.

Fantasy Impact: A relatively disinterested Giants team rushed for 120 yards (plus 15 on scrambles by Carr) against the vaunted Vikings, albeit without Pat Williams. You have to think the absence of Jacobs (and motivation) more than offset Williams' absence, suggesting the Giants should be able to run the ball on anyone this postseason. The Giants' run-blitzing kept Peterson mostly in check; he had the one long touchdown and 36 yards on his other 20 carries. If that's the blueprint to beating the Vikings, the onus will fall on Jackson to make teams play for committing those extra defenders to the run—not that this is anything new, though Minnesota's play-callers seem to react as if it is.

Panthers 33, Saints 31

How do you control the ball for 37 minutes on the road in a division where the home team has won all 11 games this year? You run DeAngelo Williams 25 times fo 178 yards and Jonathan Stewart another 17 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. Not that the passing game didn't matter; in addition to Muhsin Muhammad's touchdown (as part of a seven-catch, 79-yard afternoon), it was Steve Smith (5-134) making a play downfield in the fourth quarter that kept Carolina's second-seed hopes alive. A dozen of Jake Delhomme's 14 completions and 213 of his 250 yards went to that duo as the Panthers shortened the game just enough to leave New Orleans with the NFC South's first road win and a first-round bye.

With Pierre Thomas out and Deuce McAllister on his last legs—plus Dan Marino's single-season yardage record dangling like a carrot and the Saints playing from behind virtually the entire game—Drew Brees had plenty of reasons to throw 49 passes. While his 386 yards fell 16 yards shy of Marino's mark, his yardage and four scores solidified his claim as the top fantasy quarterback entering 2009. Marques Colston (7-123-1) was his top target, but Lance Moore (8-91-2) reemerged as a viable No. 2.

Fantasy Impact: You know about Brees and Colston, and Moore's year should make him a popular fantasy WR2 next year. But what to do with Robert Meachem? The former first-round pick—who opened with two touchdowns in the first four games—has scored in each of the past two as well. Moreover, the Saints have been making a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands. New Orleans' offense certainly offers enough production for multiple fantasy receivers, but at whose expense will Meachem's numbers come: Reggie Bush? Jeremey Shockey? Delhomme's fantasy season has been largely a disappointment, but that's only because this team is shaping up exactly the way John Fox wants it to: as one that can run the ball at will against anyone. Stewart set a franchise rookie rushing record and joined Williams in the 10-touchdown club; if he makes progress in his sophomore season, will that come at the expense of DeAngelo, whose numbers suggest he should be a first-round fantasy back?

Steelers 31, Browns 0

There was little drama in the way the Steelers dispatched the hapless Browns. Willie Parker romped for 116 yards and a touchdown, though you'd think after seeing Ben Roethlisberger carted off the field the Steelers might have been a bit more inclined to give carries to Gary Russell or Mewelde Moore. Big Ben was in the game long enough to complete nine of 14 passes for 110 yards before his injury; once he left a Byron Leftwich rushing touchdown opened the floodgates. Hines Ward led the receiving corps with six catches for 70 yards, but this one was largely handled on the ground against a Cleveland team that barely even threatened to score.

The good news is, most of what you saw as the Browns limped home won't be there next season. Cleveland's starting quarterback in 2009 (be it Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn) was on IR in December, Kellen Winslow wasn't around, and while Jamal Lewis (23-94) demonstrated a pulse he's no lock to be back, either. How bad was it for Cleveland in their second straight shutout? The only Brown to catch more than one pass finished with negative-one yards receiving.

Fantasy Impact: Lewis made it through 2008 without a 100-yard game and no longer looks capable of being a feature back on a legitimate NFL team. He could still be a complementary option, and that role may come in Cleveland as they don't appear to have much else at the position. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has plenty of weapons but received yet another lesson in how important it is to protect the general in charge of that arsenal. Roethlisberger has now been sacked at least 46 times in three consecutive seasons—139 times in all since 2005, and that's not counting playoff games.

Raiders 31, Buccaneers 24

If there's one thing the Raiders have done well the past couple of seasons, it's run the football. Still, it was surprising to see them have so much success doing just that in Tampa with their third-string running back, Michael Bush. Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden combined for 13 yards on seven carries, but Bush picked up the slack with 177 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, including a game-winning 67-yard burst. As Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan have proven this year, playing quarterback is a lot easier when your team is running the ball effectively; add JaMarcus Russell to that list, as the soph completed 14 of 21 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns and was only sacked once on the afternoon.

Usually when the Bucs score 24 at home it's more than enough to win. This time, with a playoff berth on the line the Bucs seemed to get more than enough from all aspects of their offense. Tampa fans enjoyed 78 yards and two touchdowns (plus 37 receiving yards) from Carnell Williams and solid contributions from Jeff Garcia (257 and one), Antonio Bryant (three catches, 77 yards) and even Michael Clayton (87 yards and a touchdown on two grabs)... yet still saw their club fail to seal the deal.

Fantasy Impact: Williams left the game following what looked to be yet another serious knee injury, in this case a torn left patellar tendon. Initial reports suggest he could be back as early as training camp, and while Cadillac has proven he can come back from injury before the list of effective NFL running backs who have had both knees worked on is hardly extensive. After throwing big money at Javon Walker in the offseason the Raiders may have found their receivers of the future much closer to home in 2007 third-round pick Johnnie Lee Higgins (6-52-1) and 2008 seventh-rounder Chaz Schilens (3-46-1). With Russell having made strides in December, there is at least potential for Oakland to offer fantasy help in 2009—assuming Al Davis stops calling plays and the line gets a freshening via the draft and/or free agency.

Colts 23, Titans 0

This game was mostly about getting players some individual records. Peyton Manning went seven-for-seven on the team's opening drive, capped by a Joseph Addai 55-yard catch-and-run, and finished the year with 4,000 passing yards for the ninth consecutive season. Marvin Harrison caught seven balls (for a mere 31 yards), enough to move him past Cris Carter into second all-time amongst NFL pass-catchers. And Dallas Clark used his six-catch, 59-yard afternoon to established a new franchise mark for receiving yards by a tight end. Aside from that, unless you enjoyed seeing Jim Sorgi get some work in or Lance Ball (13-83) make his NFL scoresheet debut, this game did nothing for you.

And speaking of nothing, that's exactly what the Titans' offense generated. Chris Johnson didn't play, Vince Young handled most of the quarterback duties, and the Titans held the ball for just under 22 minutes while producing a mere 125 yards of offense. Their longest play was 13 yards, though in their defense they did it twice.

Fantasy Impact: Absolutely nothing to take away from the Titans' side of the ledger, other than if there were any doubt which back was more important, Johnson or LenDale White, Johnson's presence in street clothes and White's seven carries in a game that meant nothing should drive that point home loud and clear. Same on the Indy side, though Addai's 55-yard jaunt may either remind some folks just what he could bring to the table in that offense when healthy... or skew some into forgetting how he ceded looks to Dominic Rhodes this season and overvalue him based on potential.

Packers 31, Lions 21

Not surprisingly the Packers had their way with the Lions. They ran; both Ryan Grant (19-106) and DeShawn Wynn (7-106-1) reached triple digits. They passed; Aaron Rodgers completed 21 of 31 for 308 yards and three scores, with both Donald Driver (6-111-1) and Greg Jennings (5-101) topping the century mark. About the only area in which the Packers failed was in Mason Crosby's 69-yard field goal attempt just before the half. However, it wasn't quite as easy as it sounds; two of Rodgers' touchdowns came in the fourth quarter as the Pack had to hold off a Lions team that wasn't willing to just roll over and accept 0-16.

Would it be unheard of to put four guys on Kevin Smith and five guys on Calvin Johnson? That's really all the offense the Lions have to offer, and despite you and I and everybody else in the free world knowing it, both still got theirs on Sunday. Johnson caught nine of Dan Orlovsky's 22 completions and accounted for 102 of his 225 yards and both of his touchdowns; Smith carried 28 times for 92 yards and scored Detroit's other TD. The only other Lion worth noting was wideout John Standeford, who caught three balls for 82 yards when Johnson was apprently on a bathroom break or otherwise indisposed.

Fantasy Impact: The regime change has begun in Detroit, and while it sounds silly if you say it out loud there are some pieces already in place—namely, Johnson and Smith. If Detroit can find a quarterback who can consistently get Johnson the ball—and truth be told Orlovsky managed to do that this year—and a line to protect said quarterback while opening some more holes for Smith, both are worthy fantasy starters in 2009. Aside from failing to match Brett Favre in the late-game heroics department—and really, were Crosboy's two botched kicks last week his fault?—Rodgers proved the Packers front office made the right decision in investing in him long-term. That should be enough to keep Jennings among the elite fantasy wideouts and keep Driver at least relevant heading into next season, though Jordy Nelson and James Jones will push him for playing time sooner rather than later.

Ravens 27, Jaguars 7

It's not just the Baltimore defense that has potential playoff opponents running scared. Offensively they run the ball efficiently and effectively, which they did again Sunday with Le'Ron McClain pounding out 70 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and Willis McGahee chipping in 24 yards and a touchdown of his own. The run sets up the pass, allowing Joe Flacco to take some shots down the field; Mark Clayton (4-128), Derrick Mason (6-77), and even Troy Smith (1-36) had plays of greater than 35 yards. Add it all up and Flacco finished just three yards shy of 300 yards on 17-for-23 passing.

Maurice Jones-Drew is all the Jags have on offense; worse, not only does the defense know it but the defense is the vaunted Ravens, who still have a playoff spot to play for. Yet behind an offensive line banded together by duct tape and baling wire MoJo produced 78 rushing yards and another 10 via the air; hey, for the Jags that was the highlight this week. David Garrard (14-25-127-1-2) received little help from a rag-tag receiving corps, unless Dennis Northcutt's five catches for 35 yards excite you.

Fantasy Impact: Jacksonville can't head into 2009 expecting Northcutt to be their No. 1 receiver; that would be even more foolish than expecting Jerry Porter to be their No. 1 receiver, which they did heading into this season. Matt Jones will return from suspension and Mike Walker has shown flashes, but the Jags might be in the market to upgrade at the position. The Ravens are among the league's top rushing teams, but perhaps their best back—Ray Rice—hasn't played since suffering a calf injury in Week 14. He should factor into that backfield in 2009, maybe at the expense of McClain's touches and McGahee's roster spot.

Cardinals 34, Seahawks 21

The Cardinals took advantage of an opportunity to get their offense back on track at home against the Seahawks. Kurt Warner (19-30, 263) fired four touchdown passes before giving way to Matt Leinart; Larry Fitzgerald (5-130-2) came close to finishing with a second straight 100-catch season, while Steve Breaston (5-91-1) and Jerheme Urban (4-43-1) covered for the inactive Anquan Boldin. Even Edgerrin James got in on the fun, capitalizing on his first extended action in more than two months by turning 14 carries into 100 yards. In all the Cards generated 457 yards of offense in less than 28 minutes of possession, overcoming two turnovers and 100 yards in penalties. Yeah, I'd say the offense is set to go for the playoffs.

Mike Holmgren didn't expect to end his tenure in Seattle looking to avoid a 12-loss season; of course, he didn't expect to be trotting Seneca Wallace out at quarterback, either. Wallace hasn't been a bad fill-in and his 24-43-250-2-2 stat line was solid. Deion Branch can be credited for some of Wallace's success, as he has returned from injury to post numbers that are sure to make him a popular sleeper pick heading into 2009—Sunday's 6-90 with two touchdowns serving as a case in point. The Seahawks received nothing in the ground game, with Maurice Morris carrying 15 times for 45 yards, T.J. Duckett swiping a short touchdown, and big-ticket offseason acquisition Julius Jones touching the ball just twice for six yards.

Fantasy Impact: With a healthy Matt Hasselbeck and, one would assume, a similar offense in place in Seattle next season Branch should most certainly crack the fantasy radar. So should John Carlson, who finished with two catches for 14 yards but will continue to thrive in the tight end-friendly West Coast system. James' return gives the Cardinals a fresh back for the postseason, though they're not going to beat anyone by running the football. It also probably puts the running back position back in play in the Cardinals' 2009 draft, with J.J. Arrington a potential free agent and Tim Hightower likely to end up as, at best, the goal-line/third-down portion of a committee approach.

49ers 27, Redskins 24

Mike Singletary removed the "interim" from his title; maybe Shaun Hill can do the same? There will be plenty of changes in San Francsico this offseason, but Hill's 21-30-245-1-1 in the season finale is one more line on the resume he'll submit to whomever is directing the 49ers offense in 2009. Spreading the ball amongst nine different receivers, Hill brought the Niners back from a 10 point halftime deficit, then directed the drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal as time expired. He did so with little from Frank Gore (64 yards from scrimmage on 12 touches) and no single receiver catching more than four balls or topping 50 yards.

The Redskins weren't mailing this one in; they really are that impotent offensively. Clinton Portis produced 80 yards and a touchdown, but it took 29 carries to do so. Jason Campbell leaned heavily on Santana Moss (6-68) and Chris Cooley (6-57), but turned to Antwan Randle El (3-16-1) for his lone touchdown and finished with just 156 yards on the afternoon.

Fantasy Impact: Portis is a stud, but the workload seemed to wear him down over the second half of the season as defense showed no fear of the passing game in stacking the box against the Skins. Washington needs to upgrade an aging offensive line and find some way to threaten downfield if they're to provide more fantasy bang in 2009. The Niners, as we've come to expect from a Mike Martz offense, spread the ball around too much to offer a true fantasy WR1—or in this case, even a WR2. However, Singletary hasn't committed to Martz for 2009, so we may be forced to reevaluate this entire offense heading into next year's fantasy draft.

Dolphins 24, Jets 17

Chad Pennington won an AFC East title in New York; funny thing was, he was in road whites when he did so. Pennington's efficient 22-30-200-2 helped Miami complete their turnaround from 1-15 to division champs, and in the process he may have found a new playmaker in Ted Ginn. Ginn made two plays on the day, but both were huge: a 27-yard touchdown catch on a typically well-thrown (but atypically deep) ball and a 44-yard adjustment that was all Ginn. The Dolphins also received yet another tight end touchdown, with Anthony Fasano (3-39-1) doing the honors, and 107 yards from their backfield tandem of Ronnie Brown (11-57) and Ricky Williams (10-50). In short, it was typical of the Dolphins' season: no big stars, but contributions across the board.

Didn't the Jets used to be running the ball at will, controlling the clock and not allowing Brett Favre to make some of the force-it-in-there errors that have marred his latter years? When it really mattered, Thomas Jones received just 10 carries (and produced just 23 yards) and Leon Washington (10-60-1) was more efficient though equally under-used. Instead, Favre threw 40 times, completing half for 233 yards and three picks—one returned for a touchdown. Sure, he hooked up with Laveranues Coles (4-88-1) for a score, but the Jets who just a month or so ago looked to be headed for an All-Gotham Super Bowl were a run-first entity; putting the team on Favre's shoulders—one of which has apparently been bugging him as the year progressed and took a jolt when he tried to make a tackle on the pick-six he threw—probably cost Eric Mangini his job.

Fantasy Impact: The Jets rebuilt their offensive line last offseason, then opted not to use it down the stretch. Whomever they bring in as coach will have the line and a complementary pair of backs to start with; whether they'll be supporting Favre or carrying Kellen Clemens remains to be seen. Maybe the playoffs will tip the Dolphins' hand as to what they intend to do with Williams in the offseason. Has he just been buying Brown time to recover from last year's injury or do the Dolphins really want to roll with a two-headed backfield? A 20-carry game from Brown against the Ravens would be a strong indication Ricky should start packing his bags.

Eagles 44, Cowboys 6

They love you in Philly when you're winning, so Donovan McNabb is back in the good graces of the City of Brotherly Love. McNabb's numbers (12-21-175-2) weren't overwhelming, but he mixed in a running score and directed the Eagles (thanks to some timely Cowboy turnovers) to a 24-point halftime lead, so he wasn't forced to throw to win this game. Instead, he received not just from Brian Westbrook (62 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches) but also from Correll Buckhalter (63 rushing yards on 10 carries plus a 59-yard reception and a receiving touchdown as well). Typical of the Eagles, the receiving workload was spread around, with the whole significantly better than the sum of the parts.

The highlight of this one was a Tony Romo backwards pass to Jason Witten, who then fired a 42-yard strike to Terrell Owens. Outside of that joyful reunion , there was little for Big D to get excited about. Marion Barber (five touches, 33 yards) was a non-factor once again (unless you count his lost fumble in the red zone), and Tashard Choice (64 yards on 14 touches) didn't fill the void. Romo was 21 for 39 for 183 yards and a pick, plus he lost a pair of fumbles himself. Owens' stat line (6-103) stands out; maybe he'll put that on his GM resume.

Fantasy Impact: So... blow up the Cowboys? Is Romo the A-Rod of football, great when it doesn't matter and a liability when it does? Can TO co-exist with Witten? Does Jerry Jones regret giving Pacman Jones (a 15-yard penalty that helped set up Philly's third touchdown of the second quarter, followed almost immediately by a fumbled kickoff return that gave the Eagles a field goal just before halftime) a second second chance? If HBO's Hard Knocks doesn't follow the Cowboys this offseason, the Soap Opera network could pick up the slack. Wasn't Westbrook supposed to be the healthiest he's been all year? You would have expected a little more than 62 combo yards, though in Westy's defense he touched the ball just once after halftime with the Eagles up big. Buckhalter, meanwhile, gets a chance to showcase his skill set heading into free agency this offseason.

Chargers 52, Broncos 21

This is the Chargers' offense we expected to see... oh, about four months or so ago. LaDainian Tomlinson spat in the face of the fantasy owners he frustrated by scoring thrice in a game that meant everything in the NFL and nothing in most fantasy leagues. He also produced 96 yards on 14 carries and would have had a touchdown grab if not for Brandon Manumaleuna, who stepped in front of a ball that looked to be intended for LT and scored a touchdown of his own. Darren Sproles also capitalized on the Broncos' non-existant run defense with 115 yards and a touchdown of his own, plus 17 yards and another score on two catches. All that success from his backs left Philip Rivers (15-20-207-2) and the downfield receiving corps with little to do—though Vincent Jackson (2-47), Antonio Gates (3-49), and even Chris Chambers (3-50) found a way to get involved in the fun as well.

Who says Mike Shanahan can't conjure up backs out of thin air? With seven backs already on IR the Broncos turned to retread Tatum Bell, who carried the luggage... er, sorry, bad analogy... delivered two touchdowns and 86 yards on just eight carries. That left the rest of the offense to Jay Cutler, who threw 49 times, completing 33, for 316 yards. His only touchdown went to Tony Scheffler (5-75), who almost had another score but couldn't come down in bounds thanks to a helpful shove from a Bolts defender. Brandon Marshall (6-55) was disappointing, stumbling just before he would have hauled in a Cutler TD and drawing a penalty for displaying his frustration. At least Eddie Royal (11-76) came to play, though when you're getting less than seven yards per catch from Eddie Royal things probably aren't going as you designed them.

Fantasy Impact: Throw Bell's name back into the hat of Bronco backs you'll need to consider for next year's draft. In case you've lost track, that list also includes Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torain, for starters. Denver's young and developing offensive line should make one of those backs a fantasy factor; let's just hope Shanny picks one and sticks with him. Sproles could follow Michael Turner out of San Diego in the offseason, especially if LT's late resurgence has the Bolts thinking he can be the LT of old through the remainder of his contract. Conventional wisdom suggests Sproles is capable of being a quality third-down back somewhere, but is there any reason he couldn't be a Steve Slaton-type feature back in the right offense?

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