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
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.
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?
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.