With Sunday's games in the books, here's a brief list of the most significant depth chart changes affecting fantasy leagues. Keep in mind that in the last few weeks of the season you see plenty of unusual substitutions and benchings as some teams pack it in and others rest starters for the playoffs.
BUFFALO RB - RISING: Fred Jackson. FALLING: Marshawn Lynch. It took all year, but Jackson finally may get a chance to be the feature back in the finale next week. Lynch has been battling shoulder problems over the last couple of weeks and left Sunday's game when he aggravated the injury. He hasn't been bad this year, though a bit more was expected of him after a strong rookie campaign in 2007. Jackson has been excellent in limited duty, and with the possibility of being the sole ballcarrier next week, fantasy leagues still playing in Week 17 would do right to rush to the waiver wire to pick him up.
ARIZONA QB - RISING: Matt Leinart. FALLING: Kurt Warner. The Cardinals clearly were not ready for the Patriots Sunday, and consequently Warner had one of the worst games of his career (6-for-18 for just 30 yards). Leinart, once the heir apparent in Arizona, took over for Warner in the third quarter and led the Cards to their only score of the game. With a playoff spot clinched, expect Arizona to rest Warner next week and give the backup a chance to beat up on the Seahawks.
INDIANAPOLIS WR - RISING: Anthony Gonzalez. FALLING: Marvin Harrison. The Colts are notorious for benching their stars late in the season, and last Thursday was no exception. Harrison sat out the game with a sore hamstring, and Peyton Manning had one of the best games of his career in Harrison's absence. Gonzalez only caught four passes for 38 yards, but he should get another chance next week. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Colts have already locked in the fifth seed and most of the starters won't play much beyond the first quarter.
DENVER RB - RISING: Tatum Bell. FALLING: P.J. Pope and Selvin Young. There are few jobs in life more dangerous than being a Denver running back in 2008. Seven different running backs have at least 15 carries for the Broncos this year, including Sunday's casualties Pope and Young. Pope got the start, but lasted only six carries before leaving the game with a sore hamstring. Young, who didn't expect to play much, led the Broncos with seven carries Sunday, but suffered a pinched nerve in his neck. The numerous injuries leaves Bell as the last running back standing. He's not a bad play next week against the Chargers in a game that will decide the last playoff spot in the AFC. You might want to find out the name of his backup, however. You know, just in case.
OAKLAND WR - RISING: Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens. FALLING: Ronald Curry and Ashley Lelie. The Raiders with Curry and Lelie in the starting lineup were obviously nothing special this year, but when both went down for injuries a week ago, they were replaced by the most unlikely duo all season: Higgins and Schilens. Going into Sunday's game with Houston, the two had a combined 22 receptions all season. Both caught touchdowns on Sunday, and Higgins added another on a punt return (his third this season). JaMarcus Russell looked comfortable passing to Higgins and Schilens, which could get another shot next week. If you're already planning for your 2009 draft, they might be a couple of names to remember.
CINCINNATI WR - RISING: Andre Caldwell. FALLING: Chad Johnson. Ocho Stinko sat out Sunday's game with a sore hamstring, but it was doubtful he was in too many fantasy lineups over the last few months. Assuming he doesn't play next week either, Johnson will finish the worst season of his career with 53 catches for 540 yards and just four touchdowns. Caldwell replaced him in the starting lineup, but the Bengals abandoned the pass completely Sunday, completing just five passes - even T.J. Houshmandzadeh was held without a catch. The going might be a little easier against Kansas City next week.
CLEVELAND QB - RISING: Bruce Gradkowski. FALLING: Ken Dorsey. Dorsey was put out of his misery Sunday. After throwing three picks, he left the game in the fourth quarter with a mild concussion and sore ribs. The Browns, who haven't scored an offensive touchdown in over a month, turned to Gradkowski, who threw a fourth interception for good measure. Cleveland already has lost Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn to season-ending injuries this year, and can't do any worse than Dorsey. Expect Gradkowski to get the call next week against Pittsburgh, but keep him far far away from your fantasy squad.
Article first appeared 12/22/08