MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Yards,receptions, touchdowns.... Chicago simply doesn't allow much of anything thatmakes for a strong fantasy performance by a running back. So what will thatmean for the league's leading rusher?
The BarberFarewell Tour has gone well so far (save for the one-TD problem). En route tobeing named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Barber has been amodel of consistency: He's one of only three players whose per-game rushingaverage (103.8) eclipses the century mark, and even his worst game (51 yards)was offset by stellar receiving stats (7 for 57).
LANCE BRIGGS ANDTHE BEARS' DEFENSE
The Bears areanything but cuddly against the run, allowing 91.1 yards per game. (Only threeopposing backs have topped 75 yards, and none have reached the end zone.)Briggs and fellow linebacker Brian Urlacher (whose status is uncertain aftersuffering a sprained left foot in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins) lead a unitthat has forced a league-high 15 fumbles.
Believe it or not, the outcome may actually hinge on the Bears' offense. If itscores early and forces the Giants to the air, Barber will suffer. Even if hemakes a few catches, the Chicago D allows fewer than 18 receiving yards pergame to starting running backs. Advantage, Da Bears.
THE INSIDE MAN
His run-passpotential makes him irresistible, but will Michael Vick ever be a consistentperformer?
MICHAEL VICK hasyet to develop into the standout passer that the Falcons were promoting beforethe season began. After throwing a combined seven TD passes in wins over theSteelers and the Bengals, he reverted to his erratic form in Sunday's loss tothe Lions (163 yards, one TD, two interceptions). As much as the Falcons wantto believe that Vick's decision to spend his first full off-season in Atlantais paying off--a team source said last week that "the lightbulb has come onfor him"--the dividends aren't showing up on a regular basis.
A ray of hope forVick owners is the emergence of wide receiver Ashley Lelie, whom Atlantaacquired in a trade with Denver on Aug. 23. Lelie, 26, brought valuable speedas a third receiver, and he has helped the Falcons' younger wideouts, MichaelJenkins and Roddy White, learn how to prepare for game day. But Vick ownersshould brace themselves for more of the same inconsistency overall.
Disgruntled Carson Palmer owners can blame the Bengals' offensive line for thedecline in the quarterback's fantasy numbers. Ever since losing starting centerRich Braham--who suffered a deep bruise to his left knee in a Week 2 win overthe Browns--the unit has struggled to play cohesively. To fill in for Braham,Cincinnati first tried Eric Ghiaciuc and then left guard Eric Steinbach, andnow is back to Ghiaciuc. The juggling has made it hard for the group to makeconsistent line calls, which means Palmer has a more difficult time avoidingpressure in the pocket.
This doesn't meanthat Palmer won't still produce the 300-yard, three-touchdown games that were aconstant for him last season. It just means that owners need to be mindful ofwhen he's facing a team with a pass rush capable of giving him problems.
Houston's running back situation has come full circle, with Wali Lundy, theWeek 1 starter, returning to favor among the coaching staff. There is stillsome talk about a rotation--with Ron Dayne and Samkon Gado splitting theshort-yardage touches--but Lundy has capitalized on his recent opportunity asthe lead back. He has gained 252 yards in the last three games while Dayne'sstar appears to be fading because he's not hitting the holes quicklyenough.
JUST HAND IT TOHIM
The Ravens' Jamal Lewis may never again be the dominant running back that hewas a few years back, but one thing is for sure: He's going to get more touchesnow that coach Brian Billick is calling the plays. Over the last two gamesLewis has logged 55 carries. That's his highest two-game total this season, andhis teammates like Billick's renewed dedication to the running game."That's what we need," says wide receiver Derrick Mason. "AnytimeJamal gets a lot of carries, guys don't want to tackle him in the fourthquarter. He's 245 pounds coming downhill, and he's going to get stronger as thegame goes on."
A longtime fantasy stud, LaDainian Tomlinson had only one 100-yard rushingeffort through his first six games. Tomlinson's offensive linemen were asagitated by that statistic as his fantasy owners, especially because theChargers were starting to be referred to as a finesse team. San Diego's frontfive responded by clearing the way for Tomlinson's 183-yard performance in aWeek 8 win over the Rams and his 172-yard game against the Browns on Sunday."[The linemen] didn't apologize for it," said Tomlinson, "but youknew they were pretty upset about not being able to run the balleffectively."
I THINK ...
... it's time toget on the Patriots' bandwagon--quick
Last week inFoxborough I interviewed an ebullient Tom Brady, and I picked up on why he wasso happy: He had worked very hard to develop a chemistry with his newreceivers, and a couple of days before our talk, all the extra sessions hadpaid off in a 31--7 win over the Vikings. "It's soooo rewarding,'' Bradysaid, "to have a bunch of good guys, hardworking guys come into your systemand be able to pick it up so we're all on the same page so fast.''
Against Minnesotasix receivers who weren't with New England seven months ago--WRs RecheCaldwell, Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson and Jabar Gaffney, RB Laurence Maroney andTE David Thomas--caught a total of 17 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.The result was a dominant performance by Brady. Yes, he threw fourinterceptions against the Colts on Sunday night, but two came on tipped balls.That game was a fluke, not the start of a trend.
If you're likemost fantasy owners right now, you're looking for late-season bargains thatmight give you a few points. In any competitive league several of Brady'stargets--Maroney, RB Corey Dillon, TE Ben Watson and WR Troy Brown--are gone.Another tight end, Daniel Graham, has been out for four weeks with an ankleinjury, so he's a wait-and-see proposition. Let's say for the sake of argumentthat Gabriel is available in your league. Then let's rank the Pats' bestwaiver-wire candidates in order of pickup preference:
1) Gabriel. He'llbe Brady's favorite target by season's end.
2) Caldwell. Youdon't connect with a receiver 12 times--as Brady did with Caldwell against theBills and the Vikes combined--unless you're comfortable with him. 3) Thomas.Just a hunch. The Patriots loved him in the draft because he hauled in so manyhard-to-catch balls from Vince Young at Texas. Brady will learn to trust him inlimited playing time down the stretch. He might give you two or three TDs.
Despite losing a heartbreaker to the Redskins, he's distributing the ball muchmore effectively than Drew Bledsoe did. More important, he's keeping hisreceivers happy.
Filling in for the injured Joe Horn, the speed demon amassed 111 yards andscored two big TDs against the Bucs on Sunday.
The journeyman replaced the injured Willis McGahee and ran all over the Packers(95 yards, one TD).
Jacksonville's No. 1 receiver proved he's healthy with three catches, 66 yardsagainst the Titans.
With Larry Fitzgerald out, Johnson squandered a golden opportunity, averaging37.7 yards per start.
He had two catches with Plaxico Burress sidelined--and it's been five gamessince he has crossed the goal line.
The 38-year-old has thrown as many picks in the last two weeks (four) as he didin 15 games last year.
Against Miami he was 18 for 42 with three picks, the second horrible showing inhis last three games (facing teams with six combined wins).
Read Peter King's 10 Fantasy Things I Think I Think and analysis from DavidSabino at SI.com/fantasy.
Vick has as many 100-yard rushing games this year (two) as 200-yard passinggames.
DAVID STLUKA/GETTY IMAGES
PETER READ MILLER
Tomlinson's line has given him a push.