By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
For most leagues, Week 14 is Week 1 of the fantasy playoffs. Last week was one of the most bizarre in recent fantasy history, as a lot of guys left for dead rose from the ashes and others who were so dynamic earlier ended up burying their owners. Let's sort it out carefully, given that the chips are on the table.
J.P. Losman, QB, Bills: More of a play for next year. Currently, he's got about an 80 rating on 11-to-20-yard throws. Last year, he was at 39. This kind of leap is what you look for from a developing QB. There are other subtle signs that Losman may be a backup with some upside next year.
Marion Barber, RB, Cowboys: I was heavy on him all summer, but didn't get the chance to draft him in either league I play in. He's slow, which is why he doesn't start. But he gets yards that Julius Jones too often leaves on the field. Barber leaves nothing on the field. Unfortunately, he doesn't take anything usually, either. But the goal-line carries are bread and butter, and he's gotten the majority of rushes two weeks running. In this RB-challenged year, that makes him a starter now in just about every format.
Donte' Stallworth, WR, Eagles: I'm not comfortable counting on Jeff Garcia, but Stallworth is back in play at least as a starter in almost every format. The hamstring can also go again on any snap. I know I'm killing the Stallworth Buzz. Hey, he goes into Washington this week to face the Deadskins, who can't cover anyone. Upgrade Westbrook, too, this week, back into a No. 1 fantasy back even post-McNabb. I draw the line on Garcia, however.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: You just know that John Fox is going to start DeShaun Foster no matter what Williams does in his absence. That's where the loss on Monday night hurts Williams owners, as it takes away some of Williams' luster (unfairly, I know). Who knew that Williams had those kinds of receiving chops? He looked like Marshall Faulk coming out of the backfield. (Faulk seriously said last week that he's planning on playing next year. It's over, Marshall, and you're a damn fine studio guy. Embrace your new life, bro'. Stop chasing ghosts.)
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: He can really run when he needs to, but plays with self-control rarely seen in the QB with legs. Investments in the Jaguars passing game rarely pay off, however. And now that we're in a one-game season, beware the Colts pass defense. It's not that they're good as much as teams just want to four-corners them with the running game, grinding out the clock and playing for a one-possession game. Someone is going to figure out that you can pass on that defense, too (like the Steelers did early in the playoff win last year). I doubt that person is going to be Jack Del Rio, but I didn't think it would be Bill Cowher, either.
Matt Jones, WR, Jaguars: He's out of the doghouse off the strong game against Miami. But the Garrard caveats apply here, too. You want to slot him in this week as a No. 3 receiver where you can live with a 3-for-31? Fine. Just manage your expectations.
Trent Green, QB, Chiefs: Really bad matchup this week (Ravens). He's only here so that I can talk about a fascinating bit of statistical data. The Chiefs with Damon Huard as QB threw the ball 11-to-20 yards downfield (the money throw in fantasy and in reality) about 26 percent of the time (Jon Kitna leads current starters with just over 25 percent of attempts traveling this distance in the air). Remember, this is from scrimmage, not from the pocket. But with Trent Green at QB, the Chiefs throw this distance just under 12 percent of the time. That's a huge difference, albeit over a small sample size. Is Green checking down himself? Is his post-concussion brain still too scrambled to read the hieroglyphics of the second level of NFL secondaries? Still, Green was very effective last week against a Brown defense that uglies up a lot of games; so, he bears close watching.
Jon Kitna, QB, Lions: Gets the vote of confidence from the coaching staff not just for this year, but for '07, too. I guess Brady Quinn doesn't fit into Detroit's plans. Kitna also has Mike Martz' ultra-aggressive passing game (most and highest percentage of 11-to-20-yard attempts in football). Roy Williams is also nice. If the weather is right, I can see him being very useful Week 15 in Green Bay.
Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: Maybe the breakout was predictable. But I don't like the broader trends for Harrison or for the Colts offense, which seems content to shadow box with opponents for interminable stretches. I'd feel better about Harrison's game in Tennessee if (A) his production was more uniform throughout and/or (B) the Colts opened it up for once and got both wideouts heavily involved.
Carson Palmer, Bengals: You expect Palmer, the league-leader in 11-to-20-yard QB rating in 2005, to be better than 21st in these functional arm strength rankings this year. His accuracy and efficiency on intermediate throws has been the last thing to come around following his ACL surgery.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: No one played him last week unless they had to. You can't mix and match the guy like Bush. He's like Michael Vick; you can never predict who he'll go off against. So, you have to take all that bad with the good. And it's going to be mostly bad with very few goal-line carries and workhorse shares for Deuce McAllister, who also had his best game in reality in Week 13. Remember, the receiving yards came on one long catch-and-carry. He's not being split out and used like a wide receiver. What a waste.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: The Raiders are a nightmare fantasy matchup. But the Texans are always maddening. They play it close to the vest despite all the losses. David Carr has thrown just 36 passes 11-to-20 yards all year vs. 112 for Kitna and 96 for Peyton Manning. Carr's rating on these throws is 95, 10th best in football (just behind Vince Young, 63 attempts). This is killing Johnson, who can be a fearsome intermediate threat because one broken tackle there and he's off to the races. It makes sense that the Texans will start to loosen the reins, given Carr's success. Of course, this doesn't mean it will happen.
Chris Chambers, WR, Dolphins: Joey Harrington has an 18 QB rating on 11-to-20-yard throws. Man, he stinks. This is killing Chambers, who cleaned up last week in an atypical blowout loss for Miami. Bombs are prayers rarely answered. Given Harrington's god-awfulness in the intermediate zone, what does that leave Chambers? A bunch of screens and hitches that the underneath defenders know are coming.
Matt Leinart, Cardinals: Leinart's 43 rating on these intermediate throws is second worst among starting QBs. But struggles here are common for inexperienced players. The contrast with Young, however, is striking.
Tom Brady, Patriots: Evidence of those rumored shoulder woes? His rating on the money 11-to-20-yard throw is 69 (100 last year). New England's intermediate attempts are down dramatically, to 14 percent of all throws from 23 percent in '05.
Steve McNair, Ravens: Decline on intermediate throws seems to be the first and primary indication that a QB is fading. McNair used to dominate on here, but fell back to just below average in '05. He's 27th in the 2006 rankings (65 QB rating on 11-to-20-yard throws).
Warrick Dunn, RB, Falcons: I don't believe coaches anymore. But I need to report that Jim Mora did say that the Falcons must find a way to get the ball to Jerious Norwood earlier and more often. Well, Norwood is only averaging about twice what Dunn has averaged of late. Dunn is signed through 2007, for those with keeper aspirations. He's worth it, but expect it to be a frustrating ride.
Article first appeared 12/5/06