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Depth Chart Watch: Toppled Giant

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

Bears QB - As expected, Jay Cutler returned to starting-quarterback duties for the Bears on Sunday. The game started incredibly slowly for Cutler, and it appeared as if those who opted to start him were doomed to a poor fantasy performance, but things eventually kicked into high gear and he posted some decent fantasy totals. No, it wasn't the be-all, end-all of quarterback performances, but 265 yards with three touchdowns is more than enough to stop worrying about the two quick picks he threw in the first half.

Bengals TE -
With Jermaine Gresham going down with a hip injury, Tyler Eifert gets the door opened just a little bit wider for his eventual take over at the position. Eifert had a touchdown grab while Gresham was sidelined, so he's already starting to make a little more noise. Should Gresham's hip keep him limited, then Eifert gets a bump in value for Week 16 against the Vikings' super-soft defense.

Broncos WR -
After Wes Welker left the Week 14 game with a concussion, the Broncos used tight end Jacob Tamme as the slot receiver to replace him, and numerous fantasy owners expected to see that again this week. However, while we did witness that to start the game, Tamme was hardly used and receiver Andre Caldwell stole the show. Maybe it was the coverage schemes that San Diego used or perhaps Peyton Manning wanted to keep the Chargers on their toes and guessing, but Caldwell saw 10 targets, including a few red-zone looks, while Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker saw just five apiece. It hardly looks like a major shift in the offense; more like a welcoming party should Welker not receive medical clearance for this week. But when it comes down to it, this week, expect Thomas and Decker to dominate the targets again while Caldwell falls into place.

Browns RB -
Well, you didn't think they were going to really trust Chris Ogbonnaya, did you? Remember, he still had that fumbling issue that coach Chudzinski was keeping a close watch on. Well, the fumble never had a chance to occur as backup running back Edwin Baker got into the action and ended up dominating the carries out of the backfield, including goal-line touches. He also saw four targets to Ogbonnaya's seven, and the club seemed very happy with his performance. You can probably expect a similar breakdown next week, which means that Baker could have some sleeper value in deeper leagues.

Buccaneers WR -
Vincent Jackson remains the top guy, but we could have a bit of a competition for targets among the No. 2 receiver candidates - Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu. The likelihood is that the targets stay with Underwood as Owusu fills in the blanks, even though they both saw equal targets in this one. Underwood should line up opposite Jackson while Owusu lines up in the slot during three-receiver sets. It's not a huge battle, but if you're in a deep league and need a third receiver or potential flex play, Underwood should remain the right choice.

Cardinals RB -
Usually this spot is reserved for venting about Coach Bruce Arians and making fun of Rashard Mendenhall, but since that horse has long been beaten to death, we can talk about the backup job that belongs to Andre Ellington. The No. 2 job could fall into the hands of Stepfan Taylor if Ellington's thigh injury proves serious. check practice reports during the week, but it could be a moot point anyway as Mendenhall still gets the bulk of the work and will continue to do so for the rest of the season.

Cardinals TE -
Word is, Rob Housler's groin injury isn't serious enough to keep him out of action again in Week 16. On the chance that it is, we can probably expect Jake Ballard to get most of the work as the pass-catcher while Jim Dray continues in the blocking role he's filled all year. Neither is really worth a look in fantasy as Carson Palmer just doesn't seem to look for his tight end as often as in previous years.

Cardinals WR -
It's never a good time to lose one of your top receivers, and fantasy owners just might have to do without Larry Fitzgerald for the duration of their playoffs. Word is that the concussion is pretty serious, and Fitzgerald still had problems the following morning. Should Fitzgerald need time off at the end of the season, expect Michael Floyd to take over as the primary receiver with Andre Roberts stepping in as the new No. 2, a role he's played before. Brittan Golden seems to be the next guy up the depth chart and could start lining up more in three-receiver sets.

Colts RB -
With little left to play for, as the division is already locked up and a fairly easy road lies ahead the next two weeks, the Colts had no reason to bring back Donald Brown after he left with a stinger in the first quarter Sunday. Besides, the club really needs to push Trent Richardson and see just how much he can legitimately contribute once the playoffs start. Brown should be back for Week 16, but T-Rich's performance wasn't too bad, and he just might start seeing more carries next week.

Colts WR -
T.Y. Hilton saw the most looks Sunday, but both Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen saw a fair number of targets, and Whalen even got the red-zone work and eventual touchdown. We should continue to see that situation with a potential phase out of Hilton even as these young receivers all compete for a chance to shine during the playoffs. Rogers seems like a favorite option, but Whalen has a bit more experience and should continue to pull focus. LaVon Brazill just may have lost his chance as a foot injury left him inactive for the game and gave a better opportunity to the others.

49ers FB -
Bruce Miller left Sunday's game with an arm injury, and test results are pending. Miller is a huge part of this team's offense, and losing him would be a blow to Frank Gore owners, for sure. Miller's blocking skills are first-rate, and he's a huge part of Gore's success every year. If his injury is serious, expect to see Anthony Dixon to fill the fullback role and see more snaps. If the injury isn't too bad, you still might expect the 49ers to sit him out this week since they match up against a very soft Atlanta defense in Week 16.

Giants RB -
Backup Peyton Hillis suffered a concussion Sunday, and he'll now have to go through the standard NFL protocol before getting back onto the field. Should he not receive clearance, then expect Michael Cox to get some work as the change-of-pace back. It won't be a lot, which should help prevent touchdown-poaching from Andre Brown, so make sure you adjust accordingly.

Giants WR -
Victor Cruz is now dealing with both a knee sprain and a concussion, and based on the Giants record and playoff chances, it is more than likely that the team holds him out for the last two games of the regular season. Assuming that's the case, Rueben Randle would reap the benefits and get the starting nod opposite Hakeem Nicks while the Giants use the likes of Jerrel Jernigan and Louis Murphy to fill in the blanks. Nicks and Randle should be decent plays against a poor Lions secondary in Week 16, but leave the other role players to the waiver wire. None is going to be your fantasy savior.

Jaguars RB -
Maurice Jones-Drew's hamstring is at it again, and it kept the veteran running back out of action Week 15, leaving the door open for Jordan Todman to show off his skills. And show them off he did, as he motored his way to 109 rushing yards on 25 carries while also catching four passes for another 44 yards. There's no word yet how long the hamstring injury will keep Jones-Drew sidelined or whether the club is considering shutting him down, but with rumors circulating that the Jaguars are looking to extend Jones-Drew, perhaps they'd be better off letting him heal and sit the next two games.

Jaguars WR -
Word out of Jacksonville is that Cecil Shorts does not want to be shut down for the duration of the season because of his current groin issue. If he returns, then it's business as usual, but if he does need to stay off the field, then it looks like Ace Sanders gets the starting nod and the bulk of the targets with Kerry Taylor mixing in every so often. Sanders could have some decent value should he start, but he's more than likely a low-end No. 3 type. Taylor can probably be left to your waiver wire.

Patriots RB -
Well, this situation gets murkier and murkier as the weeks go on, doesn't it? LeGarrette Blount is the favorite for the majority of carries, but Stevan Ridley saw a strong percentage as well. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen, Week 14's darling, saw 10 fewer targets in Week 15 and shared just a small handful of carries. Expect coach Bill Belichick to continue to mix things up so that defenses have a more difficult time preparing as the Patriots look to at least maintain their seeding and their outside chance for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Basically that means none will be much better than a mid-level flex play.

Raiders QB -
There is no controversy here, and, no, the Raiders are not going back to Terrelle Pryor as their starting quarterback. Matt McGloin took a finger to the eye during Sunday's game and rather than risk further injury for him in a clear-cut blowout, the Raiders simply let Pryor finish things. Looking at his late-game performance, you have to feel pretty secure about McGloin holding down the job by himself ... with one eye or two.

Rams WR -
With Tavon Austin nursing an ankle injury, Austin Pettis saw a few more targets, and Stedman Bailey also saw a few come his way. The passing attack has never been a model of consistency for the Rams, so trying to find an in-house replacement for your fantasy team seems like a shot in the dark. Neither Pettis nor Bailey are trustworthy in your lineup. Kickoff returns were handled by Isaiah Pead with punt returns going to Justin Veltung, two more characters you don't have to worry about. We're just trying to keep you as informed as possible.

Redskins QB -
Is there anything really left to say about this situation that we haven't already had overplayed in the media all week? Robert Griffin III is out for the rest of the season, and Kirk Cousins is under center full time. Rex Grossman is the primary backup, and hopefully, we won't even need to look beyond that with just two games left in the season. The drama could continue into next year if Mike Shanahan stays, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Redskins TE -
Jordan Reed still out with a concussion, the Skins, once again, turned to Logan Paulsen as the primary tight end. He saw seven targets, though he only managed three catches, and should be in place for Week 16 should Reed not be granted medical clearance. However, be on the lookout for sneaky catches from rogue tight ends like Fred Davis, who are continuously looking to get into the mix and poach some touchdown catches, like we saw early in the game.

Vikings RB -
So no Adrian Peterson and no Toby Gerhart leaves you with some dude named Matt Asiata, who was just recently promoted from the practice squad. While the yards per carry average left much to be desired, Asiata's three touchdowns and 51 yards were certainly helpful to those who either had the stones to start him or just no other option. Personally, I wouldn't have started him in a playoff game unless I was so incredibly desperate and had no other options, and I won't even think of using him against Cincinnati next week if the boys remain out again. If you got away with it this week, congratulations, but don't expect to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.