Lineup calls: Can Grant be played?

Depending on your perspective, the first and last games of Week 14

ranked among the greatest – or worst – of the 2009 NFL season. No,

I won’t turn back the clock to the Buffalo-Cleveland game

from earlier this year. That doesn’t help anybody’s

psyche.

The Pittsburgh offense (save

Santonio Holmes and his 93 receiving yards) was terrible

against Cleveland.

Kurt Warner finished with negative points on Monday night

against the 49ers. I don’t know that I need to rehash all of

the individual stat lines from those games. If you lost, I just

caused you to explode your “World’s Best (insert line

here)” mug against the office wall. If you won in Week 14,

you can only smile and hope for better performances this weekend as

the playoffs move to the next level. With that as a backdrop, and

while I clean up my own mug following thoughts of the

Cardinals’ failures, let’s get rolling on this

week’s

Lineup Calls.

Top 10 Quarterbacks

(Not named Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers,

Philip Rivers, Brett Favre or Kurt Warner)

Matt Schaub at St. Louis

Schaub played through a shoulder

injury in Week 13, and his status for Week 14 was in jeopardy for a

short spell early last week. He silenced any questions very quickly

against the Seahawks by connecting with

Andre Johnson for a long touchdown pass. Schaub went into

halftime with 300 passing yards. With

Arian Foster and some combination of

Chris Brown and

Ryan Moats running roughshod over the pathetic St. Louis run

defense, Schaub will have his shots downfield against the middling

Rams pass defense. We’ll still keep waiting for the day he

gets to lead the Texans in a real-life playoff game. In the

interim, enjoy the fantasy fireworks.

Donovan McNabb vs. San Francisco

Top target

DeSean Jackson returned to action in Week 13, and the

long-distance touchdown heroics began once again for the Eagles.

McNabb passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns, his third

multi-touchdown performance in his past five starts. He should face

pressure from the 49ers this week, but he’ll connect with his

deep ball threats if the pass rush and blitzes fail.

Tony Romo at New Orleans

The Cowboys might be in the annual

December slide, but Romo’s been performing nicely for fantasy

owners. He’s thrown multiple touchdowns in three consecutive

games while averaging 316.7 passing yards. The Saints rank in the

middle of the pack against the pass, surrendering 235.6 yards and a

touchdown per game. We’re likely to see one or more turnovers

caused by an aggressive New Orleans defense, but they’ve also

had a number of lapses and have surrendered big plays in recent

weeks.

Jason Campbell vs. New York Giants

Campbell’s been

more comfortable and fluid in the pocket in recent weeks.

He’s registered three consecutive multi-touchdown games and

has passed for at least 222 yards in four straight starts.

I’m definitely encouraged by the progress of this offense and

the development of

Devin Thomas and

Fred Davis. Both will play huge roles this weekend. The

Giants defense has struggled mightily, as we’ve seen, and

will be tested by the Redskins at home. The record doesn’t

show it, but this team has performed much better in recent weeks.

Matt Hasselbeck vs. Tampa Bay

Hasselbeck’s down one

option this week with the news that

Nate Burleson’s been sidelined by an injury. However,

we did see

John Carlson pop back up on the radar last weekend to join

T.J. Houshmandzadeh and

Deion Branch as viable receiving options. Hasselbeck’s

performed well at home this season, averaging 231.8 yards and two

touchdowns per game, and the Buccaneers have surrendered 24 passing

touchdowns this season.

Kyle Orton vs. Oakland

Orton performed nicely against the

Colts, connecting 21 times with

Brandon Marshall en route to a 277-yard, two-touchdown game.

He’ll receive tremendous support from

Knowshon Moreno and

Correll Buckhalter in the ground game, thereby allowing

Marshall and perhaps even a secondary target to get involved. Look

for the Broncos to take care of business this week against the

Charlie Frye-led Raiders.

Alex Smith at Philadelphia

Smith didn’t dominate the

Arizona defense, as the 49ers worked a balanced offense and ran

effectively with

Frank Gore and

Glen Coffee. He did take advantage of the wealth of

turnovers to record his sixth multi-touchdown effort in eight

appearances this season. This weekend’s matchup certainly

isn’t a layup, as Philly can bring the heat. However, the

Eagles secondary has been susceptible to big plays (218.6 yards and

1.62 touchdowns per game), putting the onus square on the San

Francisco offensive line.

Eli Manning at Washington

This isn’t the best of

matchups for Manning, as he’s struggled against the Redskins

during his career. In fact, he’s tossed only eight touchdown

passes in 10 career starts against Washington, and this pass

defense is fairly strong. The key here for Manning will be to

connect with

Mario Manningham or

Hakeem Nicks early to stretch the field and create space in

the zone for

Kevin Boss and

Steve Smith.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Green Bay

Roethlisberger let

numerous fantasy owners and all of Steeler Nation down in Week 14.

Naturally, he wasn’t aided by the howling winds, but the

short passing game was invisible as well. He should have

opportunities to connect downfield (see

Jay Cutler tape from Week 14), but he’ll also face

big-time pressure off the edges. I expect to see

Heath Miller and

Hines Ward much more involved this week.

Jay Cutler at Baltimore

Cutler produced two touchdown

passes last week against the Packers. Of course, he paired those

highlights with two more interceptions. I’m not calling on

him to register a monster day here by any means, but the Baltimore

defense has been torched for big plays with some regularity this

season. Don’t compare this squad to Detroit, even with as bad

as they’ve looked at times. There are playmakers downfield.

Quarterback Sleepers

Brady Quinn at Kansas City

Quinn was listed in this spot

last week for the Thursday tilt against the Steelers. Of course,

that listing occurred before heavy winds rolled into Cleveland and

left the passing game flat. I believe he’ll receive stellar

support from the three-headed run game of

Chris Jennings, Jerome Harrison and

Josh Cribbs in this game, thereby affording him time to look

downfield against a poor secondary.

Matt Cassel vs. Cleveland

I understand the reticence to

climb aboard the bandwagon here. Cassel’s been a turnover

machine of late. However, he’s getting a solid weekly effort

from

Jamaal Charles, and

Dwayne Bowe returns in some capacity to help against the

injury-riddled Cleveland defense. It’s a roll of the dice, to

be sure, but Cassel could be a surprise multi-touchdown performer

in this one. Could we see CLE-DET, PART II?

Quarterback Flops

Carson Palmer at San Diego

Palmer left fantasy owners flat

for yet another week against the Vikings. He’s produced only

one multi-touchdown game since Week 7, which was four weeks later

when he ran for two touchdowns against Chicago. He’s thrown a

touchdown pass in three consecutive games, but it’s difficult

to see him doing much better on the road against a San Diego

defense that’s getting healthier.

David Garrard vs. Indianapolis

Garrard’s been a

fairly solid yardage contributor to fantasy lineups this season,

but would you believe he’s only thrown 10 touchdowns all

season? Interestingly, he produced three multi-touchdown games. In

any event, he completed 50 percent of his attempts (14-for-28) for

122 yards with 14 rushing yards and a sack in the opener against

Indianapolis. I’ve heard all the upset talk about

Thursday’s game, but running the numbers and watching games

backwards, forwards and sideways, I’m really left wondering

what those scribes and pundits are seeing.

Top 10 Running Backs

(Not named Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson,

Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, Joseph Addai, Ray Rice or DeAngelo

Williams)

Jamaal Charles vs. Cleveland

Charles has made the starting

role his own and has proven his worth for the 2010 season.

He’s averaged 114 total yards and a touchdown the past five

games. Now he sets his sights on the horrible Cleveland run

defense. Don’t read too much into that one-game blip on the

radar against the Steelers. The return of Dwayne Bowe should help

the downfield passing game (can it save Matt Cassel?) and open

lanes for Charles.

Thomas Jones vs. Atlanta

Jones has been one of the most

consistent tailbacks in the game and ranks among my contenders for

Fantasy MVP. He’s rushed for at least 75 yards or scored in

10 consecutive games. He’s averaging 89.8 rushing yards per

game. We’ve seen the Jets turn to Jones (and

Shonn Greene) with great frequency in the second half of the

season, and I expect the song to remain the same this weekend.

Kellen Clemens won’t be trusted to try and stretch the

field, and the formula won’t change much even if

Mark Sanchez is cleared.

Ricky Williams at Tennessee

Williams has been an absolute

terror since taking over the role of primary tailback for the

Dolphins. He’s registered four 100-yard games in his past

five starts and has already scored 12 total touchdowns this season.

Tennessee represents a difficult proposition for him, as the Titans

rank seventh in the NFL against the run. However, his sizable

workload and growing confidence of

Chad Henne in the passing game has me opportunistic that

Williams continues his phenomenal campaign.

Knowshon Moreno vs. Oakland

Moreno’s assumed the top

role in the Denver backfield, although we continue to see a steady

diet of touches for Correll Buckhalter. The rookie from

Georgia’s averaged 91.8 total yards per game in his past five

games with three touchdowns. He’s a veritable lock for a huge

week against the pathetic Oakland run defense that’s been run

over for 154.2 rushing yards and 1.54 touchdowns per game.

Joseph Addai at Jacksonville

How much do you trust Jim

Caldwell? If you take him at his word, then Addai shoulders a

sizable load and performs well against a weak Jacksonville

defensive front. He’s averaged 80.8 total yards per game this

season and has scored 12 touchdowns. He logged 22 touches and 77

total yards with a touchdown and his lone lost fumble of the year

in Week 1 against Jacksonville.

Laurence Maroney at Buffalo

Bill Belichick continues to

lean on his fourth-year tailback. Maroney rebounded from a sub-par

Week 13 performance against the Dolphins with a strong game against

Carolina (94 rushing yards and 17 receiving). Remember, he’d

scored in six consecutive games prior to the smallish effort

against Miami. I won’t recount all of the top-tier

performances we’ve seen against the sieve-like Buffalo run

defense. Suffice it to say we’ve seen opposing runners gash

through the tackles time after time after time. Forget about all

the off-field issues and speculation. The Patriots will be able to

run the ball in this contest, and I expect to see Maroney cash in

on a goal-line plunge.

Beanie Wells at Detroit

Wells joined the turnover festival

in Monday’s atrocious Arizona loss to San Francisco, but he

still amassed 103 total yards and scored a touchdown. I don’t

know how much needs to be said here. The Detroit defense is

terrible, and Arizona’s motivated to rebound from a horrific

display and seal off the division. Wells has gained Ken

Whisenhunt’s confidence and will play a huge role this week.

Pierre Thomas vs. Dallas

Thomas didn’t exactly

dominate the Falcons as we’d expected in Week 14, but

it’s hard to argue with his 100 total yards (47 rushing, 53

receiving). My expectations are lowered somewhat this weekend

against the Cowboys for a couple reasons. First, we see

Reggie Bush is back in Sean Payton’s good graces to

some degree (was the Week 13 a motivational thing?). Second, the

Dallas run defense is strong. Despite those factors, Thomas still

ranks among the game’s top options for this week as part of

the high-octane New Orleans offense. The Saints have scored at

least 24 points in every game this season.

Quinton Ganther vs. New York Giants

Ganther stepped into

the lead role for the Redskins last week, the fourth player to do

so, and produced a strong effort against the Raiders. He rolled to

50 rushing yards on the ground with two short touchdowns and caught

three passes for 43 yards.

Rock Cartwright was relegated to the role of bystander, and

I don’t expect much more of him this week against the Giants.

Fred Jackson vs. New England

Jackson’s become the top

option in the Buffalo backfield in recent weeks and has become a

nice plug-in RB2 to replace the countless injured starters. His

ability to catch the ball out of the backfield also aids owners in

PPR leagues. He’s averaged 97.7 total yards and 19.7 touches

per game the past three weeks. We’re looking for more

late-season heroics this week against New England, against whom

Jackson piled up 140 total yards in the near-upset in Week 1.

Running Back Sleepers

Arian Foster at St. Louis

Chris Brown ripped your hearts

out in Week 13 with an interception toss from the five-yard line.

He and Ryan Moats have also had trouble impressing Gary Kubiak

while putting the ball on the carpet. Therefore, the rookie from

Tennessee is likely to see the lion’s care of the workload

this weekend against the pathetic St. Louis run defense. Foster

carried the ball 13 times for 34 yards while adding four receptions

for 54 yards in the blowout win over Seattle.

Julius Jones vs. Tampa Bay

Amid a sea of fresh faces, Jones

certainly isn’t a sexy option this weekend. However, Jim Mora

remains committed to giving the veteran back a sizable workload so

long as he’s healthy. He’s amassed 30 carries in the

past two weeks and should be a big part of the game plan alongside

Justin Forsett against a terrible Tampa Bay squad.

Chris Jennings at Kansas City

I’d envisioned Jennings

to become the lead option in Cleveland in Week 13, but we watched

Jerome Harrison produce a top-notch effort instead. He got

his chance last week instead and posted a season-high 20 carries

for 73 yards and a touchdown against the stout Pittsburgh defense.

The Chiefs rank 28th in the league against the run and surrender

148.1 rushing yards and a touchdown per game.

Running Back Flops

Rashard Mendenhall vs. Green Bay

Mendenhall failed fantasy

owners miserably to start the strange week that was Week 14.

He’s been fairly consistent in terms of yardage in recent

weeks, averaging nearly 98 total yards over his past seven games.

However, he’s found the end zone only twice during this

period. Might the Steelers return to the franchise’s storied

history and try to run the ball this week as the playoff

aspirations swirl down the drain? It’s possible they try, but

picking up traction against the league’s second-best run

defense will be difficult.

Ryan Grant at Pittsburgh

Grant opened Sunday’s game

against Chicago with a 62-yard touchdown run, putting owners in a

very good position early. He finished with 137 rushing yards and

scored twice. Obviously, things get a lot tougher this weekend

against the top-ranked Pittsburgh run defense playing for its

playoff life at home. The Steelers have surrendered only four

rushing touchdowns this season.

Matt Forte at Baltimore

Forte had at least been

contributing 80-90 total yards on a regular basis, but the

disastrous play of the offensive line and the frequent squandering

of red zone chances by the turnover-prone Jay Cutler has lowered

his ceiling in ‘09. The Baltimore defense has had its issues

this season, but the

Haloti Ngata-led line still ranks sixth against the run.

Top 10 Wide Receivers

(Not named Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin,

Marques Colston, Roddy White, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Vincent

Jackson, Sidney Rice and Wes Welker

Miles Austin at New Orleans

Austin’s charmed season

continued with a six-catch, 71-yard game against the Chargers that

included his 10th touchdown reception. He’s scored in three

consecutive games and has caught three or more passes in nine of

his past 10. We’ve seen many a lapse in the New Orleans

secondary in recent weeks. As such, we can reasonably expect one of

our candidates for Fantasy MVP to continue his hot streak.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Tampa Bay

Nate Burleson’s

been sidelined by an injury, thereby leaving Houshmandzadeh as the

top option against a miserable Tampa Bay pass defense. He’s

been a steady, albeit quiet, contributor to owners in PPR leagues

with an occasional big game tossed into the mix. He’s

averaging five receptions and 55 yards per game. Matt

Hasselbeck’s been quite productive in front of the home

crowd, and I suspect he delivers a strong effort on Sunday.

Houshmandzadeh will need to be a factor with Burleson sidelined.

Antonio Bryant at Seattle

As expected, Bryant was shut down

in Week 14 by

Darrelle Revis in the Buccaneers’ blowout loss to the

Jets. His matchup is much better this weekend against a soft

Seattle pass defense, even with

Marcus Trufant back in the mix. Bryant had averaged 3.7

receptions and 82.3 yards in the three games prior to his battle

with Revis. He’s definitely worthy of a look-see at the third

receiver slot in deeper leagues.

Terrell Owens vs. New England

Owens caught only two passes

for 15 yards in Week 14 against the Dolphins, but as we surmised on

the FOX Fantasy Football radio show Sunday morning, he scored.

He’s been more involved in the passing game in recent weeks,

and I expect to see him targeted frequently as the Bills look to

stymie the Patriots’ playoff aspirations. The New England

secondary has been beaten for big plays fairly regularly, thereby

putting Owens on the map for a big outing.

Santonio Holmes vs. Green Bay

Holmes has been the

Steelers’ top option since the Week 8 bye, having caught six

or more passes in six consecutive games with at least 74 yards in

each (two touchdowns). His consistent play has moved him into third

place in the NFL in receiving yardage. I expect to see him active

downfield this week against Green Bay. The Packers rank third in

pass defense and have been more active in attacking opposing

quarterbacks, but have surrendered 24 passing touchdowns.

Attempting to overload on Roethlisberger could create one-on-one

opportunities deep.

Pierre Garcon at Jacksonville

Garcon posted his most meager

effort since Week 7 in last weekend’s win over Denver. He

caught just two passes for 39 yards in a tough one-on-one matchup

as

Dallas Clark cleaned up over the middle instead. He’d

posted at least 50 receiving yards in six straight games (two

100-yard efforts) before last week’s shutdown. He should

feature prominently into the game plan early in Week 15 against the

pathetic Jacksonville pass defense, though.

Greg Jennings at Pittsburgh

Jennings has obviously ranked

among the more disappointing fantasy options this year. He’s

still catching passes at a rate of 4.3 per game, but the big,

explosive plays have been few and far between (three 100-yard

games). He’s a solid play against the weakened Pittsburgh

secondary, provided that the Green Bay offensive line continues its

recent solid play.

Steve Smith (NYG) at Redskins

Smith hasn’t found the

end zone since the Giants’ Week 10 bye, but he remains a

top-notch receiving option. Consistency is king in this topsy-turvy

world, and Smith has still averaged six receptions and 83.5 yards

during this four-game scoring drought. He caught six passes for 80

yards in the first meeting with Washington, and I suspect he hits

the mark again.

Robert Meachem vs. Dallas

Go figure. The seemingly hopeless

Atlanta pass defense was the unit to stop Meachem’s five-game

scoring streak. Still, he wasn’t shut out altogether and gave

owners in PPR leagues a decent four-catch, 57-yard day. He’s

on the radar this weekend against the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys

have been better in recent weeks, but remain susceptible to

surrendering big plays.

Derrick Mason vs. Chicago

Mason made one of the top plays

in Week 14, with his catch, collision and sprint to the end zone

against the Lions. He’s topped 60 receiving yards in four of

his past five starts with two touchdowns. He’s now caught

multiple passes in 12 of 13 games this season. The Chicago pass

defense has played fairly well, but Mason will still be able to

pile up receptions and yardage.

Wide Receiver Sleepers

Dwayne Bowe vs. Cleveland

Bowe appears on the sleeper list

this week, because his role is a huge question mark and many

fantasy owners probably don’t realize his suspension has

finished. He returns from his four-game suspension and should

contribute immediately to the passing game. His return certainly

can’t hurt Matt Cassel, who’s been erratic and

turnover-prone in his absence.

Devin Aromashodu at Baltimore

Aromashodu was impressive

during training camp and finally got a shot as a downfield option

against Green Bay. He caught eight passes for 76 yards and a

touchdown in the Week 14 contest and represents an intriguing deep

sleeper option against Baltimore. He stands 6-foot-3 and has the

ability to out-leap defenders.

Greg Camarillo at Tennessee

Camarillo posted his best game

of the season, a seven-reception, 110-yard effort in the Week 14

win over Jacksonville. It was his second straight solid effort

(four catches for 61 yards in Week 13), and I expect to see him on

the radar as a solid PPR contributor this weekend.

Davone Bess injured his ankle in Week 14, and his status for

this weekend’s tilt with Tennessee is unknown. Camarillo

isn’t going to post many huge plays, but he can aggregate a

nice, consistent effort and tally receptions and yardage.

Austin Collie at Jacksonville

Collie’s only topped 45

receiving yards once in the past six games, but he carries a modest

two-game scoring streak into Thursday’s game at Jacksonville.

He’s caught multiple passes in all but two games this season

and could feature prominently in this contest. I still question how

long the Indianapolis starters play.

Wide Receiver Flops

Mike Sims-Walker vs. Indianapolis

Sims-Walker remains the

top option for David Garrard, but his calf injury is mighty

disconcerting. He was a huge question mark for fantasy owners in

Week 14, as conflicting reports about the calf injury surfaced on

game day. In the past three weeks, he’s produced just six

receptions for 64 yards.

Chad Ochocinco at San Diego

Ochocinco’s scored in

back-to-back games and remains the top and – at times – only viable

receiving option for Carson Palmer. This is a tough matchup against

the top-10 San Diego pass defense. The unit’s surrendered 19

passing touchdowns, so there may be red zone opportunities coming

off

Cedric Benson’s efforts on the ground. He’s a

third receiver, but I’m not expecting huge output.

Calvin Johnson vs. Arizona

It’s unknown whether

Matthew Stafford will be available for Week 15 against

Arizona (he probably should be shelved). His absence certainly

impacts the downfield passing game and makes Johnson a difficult

play against the Cardinals. Calvin was targeted 12 times in Week 14

against Baltimore, but amassed just four receptions for 37 yards.

Obviously, he’s a red zone target and has a shot at a

touchdown. However, those owners looking for big points out of

receptions and yardage might be left wanting.

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