MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
The New Englandquarterback seemingly has Miami's number, having won six of the last eightmeetings. But how will he fare against these resurgent Dolphins, winners offour of their last five?
Brady has beenfabulous against the Fins (10 TD passes in the last five games), but he hasbeen hard to figure out in '06. He was gritty against the Bears, but his statswere so-so: one TD and two picks. He has two four-TD games (against the Vikingsand the Packers) and one four-interception game (against the Colts). He hasalso been held under 200 yards four times.
JASON TAYLOR ANDTHE DOLPHINS' DEFENSE
Taylor, whosuffered a left wrist injury on Sunday but returned to the game, istraditionally a terror versus AFC East--rival New England: In the last ninemeetings he has sacked Brady 7 1/2 times and forced three fumbles. Moreover,during its recent turnaround, Miami has been madly marauding opposing QBs andnow has racked up 38 sacks, fourth-best in the NFL.
Nick Saban's Dolphins are employing a bend-but-don't-break defense that's bestexploited through the air (10 touchdown passes allowed in their last eightgames). Taylor & Co. will harass Brady plenty, but the resourceful Patriotspasser will find the holes and put up solid numbers.
THE INSIDE MAN
The Colts' ReggieWayne has elevated his game--and stats--to starting-wideout-caliber
THOSE FANTASYowners who thought they were getting the Colts' second-best receiver when theydrafted Reggie Wayne have to be ecstatic about their good fortune. As dangerousas fellow wideout and perennial Pro Bowler Marvin Harrison remains, Wayne, 28,has blossomed as a threat, and now the two are equals. Wayne already is on paceto lead the Colts in both receiving yards and touchdowns for the first time inhis six-year career (he has 62 receptions for 1,119 yards and eight touchdownsin 12 games), and he might well be a top five fantasy receiver in many of nextyear's drafts.
Wayne's emergenceis more a testament to his maturation and the way defenses have played theColts than to any decline in the 34-year-old Harrison's play. Says one AFCpersonnel director, "Marvin will always be [quarterback] Peyton [Manning]'sfavorite because they have a rapport, but Reggie looks like he's become more[integral to] their passing game. You can see that Peyton is willing to spreadthe ball around a lot more than he did earlier in his career. He's shown moretrust in Reggie every season."
STUMBLING BLOCKChargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is on pace for his worst statisticalseason since his rookie year of 2003. After catching 170 passes and scoring 23touchdowns over the past two seasons, Gates has 57 receptions and six scoresthrough 12 games this year--and that's including his seven-catch, 90-yard,touchdown day in a win over the Bills on Sunday. The problem? Aside from nothaving enough proven weapons at wide receiver to divert the extra coverage onGates, in recent weeks the Chargers have become more reliant on, and dominantin, the running game. "We're not feeding the ball to Antonio as much thisyear, but people don't realize he's having his best season as a runblocker," says Chargers backup left tackle Roman Oben. "He's beenkilling people at the point of attack. It's hard to measure that aspect of hisgame with numbers." Unfortunately for Gates owners, it's also impossible toget excited about a stud tight end who hasn't been catching a lot ofpasses.
THE GRANDDISTRIBUTOR A willingness to share the wealth has been the biggest reason thatCowboys quarterback Tony Romo has thrived in his first six NFL starts, to thebenefit of his owners and his receivers. As Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens says,"Everyone is running their routes while knowing that they're a viableoption [in the passing game]. Each week a different guy is stepping up andmaking plays. It's going to be that way the rest of the year." In his firstsix starts Romo has thrown touchdown passes to five receivers, and as long ashe maintains that approach, he'll continue to be an impact performer for thoseowners who were smart enough to grab him when he replaced Drew Bledsoe sixweeks ago.
TOP BILLINGThough Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman hasn't proved to be a reliable fantasystarter, he is helping wideout Lee Evans bloom as a big-play wide receiver.After 12 games Evans has 65 receptions for 925 yards and four TDs, and he'sdisplaying the explosiveness that had fantasy owners hyping him for a breakoutseason last year. Those owners who are wondering if Evans can continue thatproduction as the season winds down should be encouraged by the steadyimprovement of Losman (six TD passes in his last five games). Says Billsoffensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, "The confidence in [Losman] isgrowing every week. [Furthermore] we've decided to be a little more aggressivewith him, and he's certainly played well."
PETER KING ITHINK ...
... you shouldreview your draft mistakes as you head into the off-season
Everyone makesmistakes in the fantasy draft. I made quite a few in the mock draft conductedat SI last summer, and here are the lessons I've learned:
• Pay attentionto news out of training camp. In August I said on TV that the Cowboys would goto Tony Romo this season. Didn't look too good for a while, but it looks realgood now. Romo's the kind of guy you should take in the 14th round of an18-round draft. When you see a veteran coach (Bill Parcells) clearly enamoredwith a young player (Romo) and dissatisfied with a veteran (Drew Bledsoe),figure the kid's going to get his shot. Just be prepared to wait for a riskypick to pay off.
• Don't overvalueexhibition games. "I never believe anything I see in preseason games,"CBS analyst Phil Simms says. Coaches don't either. Guess who led the NFC inrushing in the preseason? Brandon Jacobs of the Giants. Guess who's still stuckbehind Tiki Barber, except in goal line situations? This is not to say that youshouldn't take a flier on a good-looking No. 2 back--runners get hurt all thetime--just keep things in perspective.
• Draft based onvalue, not hunches. A few of my hunches: Cedric Benson in the fourth round(over Frank Gore), because I was sure he'd beat out Thomas Jones early in theyear. The Bucs' defense in the sixth round. (No D is worth a sixth-round pick,especially one with six or seven geriatrics.) And making last year's hot foot,Neil Rackers, the second kicker picked overall because I thought his 2005performance was no fluke. (It was.)
• Go easy on therookies. Vince Young (over Philip Rivers) and Sinorice Moss (over anyone whocould walk and chew gum) were wing-and-a-prayer picks. Picking Young wasespecially shortsighted because, if he did play, it would be later in the yearand he'd still be struggling to pick up Norm Chow's offense.
The new chairman of New York's running back committee should see the bulk ofthe workload after a 22-carry, 105-yard, two-TD day at Lambeau.
He paced Cleveland with six catches for 75 yards in a big upset of theChiefs.
He picked up the slack (three catches, 56 yards) for injured starter DallasClark, whose status for the rest of the season is in question.
Warrick Dunn has been struggling, so Atlanta turned to Norwood (107 yards and atouchdown on Sunday).
Jones owners beware: Cedric Benson is providing better production in feweropportunities.
Does his 73-yard, four-pick day mean more playing time for Brooks Bollinger orrookie Tarvaris Jackson?
His 32% passing, 34 yards and three interceptions were horrendous for astarting quarterback, even if his team did win.
When you're a first-round pick and the backup QB (Josh McCown) is used in passpatterns ahead of you, you've hit bottom.
Read Peter King's 10 Fantasy Things I Think I Thinkand analysis from David Sabino at SI.com/fantasy.
AL TIELEMANS (BRADY)
BILL FRAKES (TAYLOR)
DAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (WAYNE)
WAYNE'S WORLD The sixth-year wideout is on pace for career highs in receptions and yardage.
HOWARD SCHATZ (CHADIHA)
MARK KONEZNY/WIREIMAGE.COM (EVANS)
HELPING HAND Steadier play at quarterback has benefited Evans.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (HOUSTON)
GEORGE GOJKOVICH/GETTY IMAGES (WILLIAMS)
GARY HERSHORN/REUTERS (ROMO)