This matchup won't exactly inspire NBC to exercise its flex-scheduling powers,but it's rife with intrigue for fantasy owners. Consider the sleeperpossibilities in New¬†York's once-moribund running game. EnteringWeek¬†13 the Jets were averaging just 96.5 rushing yards a game and had aleague-low two TDs. But against Miami, which came in ranked 30th in rundefense, Thomas Jones (left) and Leon Washington combined for 143¬†yardsand three scores. Against Cleveland, whose run defense is as bad as Miami's,expect them to run wild again. (While Jones is still the Man here, Washingtonshould get some consideration as a fantasy fill-in because he makes the best ofhis few touches.) The Browns will have just as much success pounding JamalLewis into the Jets' terrible front line. Lately the star of Cleveland'shigh-powered passing offense has been tight end Kellen Winslow (above); he has34¬†catches in the last five weeks and has had 10 or more catches twice inthat period.
START RB ThomasJones, RB Jamal Lewis, TE Kellen Winslow
SIT QB KellenClemens, WR Laveranues Coles
Given that Detroit is in free fall, having lost four straight games, and has asecondary that has allowed 24 passing TDs, it seems elementary that Dallas willgo to the air early. Tony Romo will look to T.O., Jason Witten and PatrickCrayton (above left, with Romo), who has three scores in his last three games.But once the Cowboys build a lead, their running backs will get in on the fun.Julius Jones and Marion Barber will grind out yards against a back-on-its-heelsdefense that has seemed to roll over in blowouts; Minnesota's Adrian Petersonand Chester Taylor had a combined 186¬†yards and three TDs in a 42-10Vikings win last week. In fact in four defeats--to Philadelphia, Washington,Green Bay and Minnesota, by a combined 109¬†points--the Lions' defenseallowed 607¬†yards and nine TDs on the ground. Detroit has the type of Dthat delights opponents' owners come playoff time.
START Just aboutany Dallas offensive player
SIT RB Kevin Jones,Lions D
Rex Grossman'sreturn at quarterback has helped the fantasy value of at least one of histeammates: receiver Bernard Berrian, who has accounted for more than a third ofRex's passing yards and caught two of his four TD passes. Also on the rise isAdrian Peterson, who in his second career start, last Sunday against theGiants, had 149 yards from scrimmage. Devin Hester will try to work his magicagainst a Redskins special teams unit that has allowed only one punt or kickreturn of more than 39¬†yards this year. Washington, though, will have muchto battle in this game. Losers of their last four, the Redskins will play thisThursday's game just three days after attending a memorial service in Miami forslain safety Sean Taylor. Their best bet is Clinton Portis, who scoredWashington's only touchdown against the Bills and should do well against adefense that allowed the Giants' Derrick Ward to gain 183 total¬†yards.
START RB ClintonPortis, RB Adrian Peterson, TE Chris Cooley
SIT QB RexGrossman, QB Jason Campbell, Bears D
If you're hangingyour playoff hopes on players in this game, then--with one exception--yourhopes aren't very high. The Buffalo and Miami offenses, both among the sixworst in the league, are liable to put on a performance reminiscent of their13-10 meeting in Week¬†10. (And that game was in toasty Miami; this timethey're up in chilly Buffalo.) Offense-bashing aside, the Bills will likelylean on running back Marshawn Lynch (above), who should be back from a sprainedleft ankle, to grind out a win. The waiver-wire pickup to consider is theDolphins' defense, which is in the top five against the pass.
START RB MarshawnLynch, Dolphins D, Bills D
SIT QB TrentEdwards, QB John Beck, WR Josh Reed
The Niners' offenseteased a semblance of competency in Week¬†12, scoring 37 points in Arizona.But in Carolina last Sunday it reverted to form, looking more like the teamthat failed to score more than 16 points in a game from Weeks¬†3 to 11. SanFrancisco will struggle again as Minnesota's top-ranked run defense stymiesFrank Gore and forces Trent Dilfer to throw more often. Arnaz Battle, who hascaught a TD pass in consecutive games, will have opportunities againstMinnesota's shaky secondary. Adrian Peterson's return to the Vikings' lineupdoes two things: It makes Chester Taylor a riskier play, and it loosens updefenses for the improving Tarvaris Jackson. The Minnesota quarterback hascompleted 77.6% of his passes over the last three games and seems to havechemistry with Sidney Rice, who has caught a touchdown pass in three of thelast four games.
START QB TarvarisJackson, WR Arnaz Battle, WR Sidney Rice, K¬†Joe Nedney
SIT RB Frank Gore,RB Chester Taylor, WR Darrell Jackson
The Bucs lead theNFC in turnover differential (+11); the Texans are last in the AFC (-9) in thatcategory. That makes Tampa's defense, led by Ronde Barber (above) an easy play.The Bucs' defensive proficiency should also scare you away from starting RonDayne--it's been two months since any back ran for more than 76¬†yardsagainst Tampa. But if Matt Schaub has recovered from the shoulder injury hesuffered against Tennessee, he's been throwing well enough to merit a start. Inthe two full games he's played since Andre Johnson's return from injury, theHouston QB has four TDs--his best two-game stretch this season. If Schaub can'tgo, Sage Rosenfels is a serviceable sub who should be available on the waiverwire. While Tampa's quarterback situation is also up in the air, that shouldn'tstop you from playing Earnest Graham. He has 407¬†yards and four touchdownsin his last four starts, which include six quarters running behind backupQBs.
START Buccaneers D,RB Earnest Graham, WR Andre Johnson
SIT Texans D, RBRon Dayne
From the San Diegoperspective this game should be about the run. Tennessee, which was among thebest defenses earlier this season, has allowed its last four opponents150¬†yards per game on the ground. That's an ominous stat when reigning MVPLaDainian Tomlinson, fresh off a 177-yard, two-touchdown game against theChiefs, is coming to town. The hot player for Tennessee is Justin Gage (right),who had a touchdown last Sunday against the Texans and has put up good statsfor four straight games. While Vince Young also looked good Sunday, throwingtwo touchdown passes in a game for the first time since Week¬†3, don'texpect it to happen again. Young will be hounded by the Chargers' defense, ledby linebacker Shawne Merriman (9 1‚ÅÑ2 sacks, three last week) and cornerbackAntonio Cromartie, who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight. Titans RBLenDale White's hand injury needs to be monitored; if he can't go, Chris Brownis a decent backup option.
START Chargers D,WR Justin Gage, K Rob Bironas
SIT QB Vince Young,QB Philip Rivers, Titans D
When the Jags'running game is rolling, they are the rare team that gives owners two strongoptions at running back. Fred Taylor has cracked 100¬†yards in two straightgames, and Maurice Jones-Drew has scored in four straight. Expect JackDel¬†Rio to lean on this tandem and also on the efficiency of quarterbackDavid Garrard, who has thrown only one interception in nine games this season.Carolina, despite four interceptions (and six sacks) last Sunday against the49ers, is not a strong candidate to up Garrard's total; Jacksonville'soffensive line is in a different class than San Francisco's and will keepCarolina's pass rush at bay. The Jaguars' defensive line, which gets a boostfrom the return of Pro Bowl tackle Marcus Stroud from a four-game suspension,will force Vinny Testaverde to go to the air. If you're desperate for a tightend, you could roll the dice with Carolina's Jeff King, as Jags linebacker MikePeterson is out with a broken hand.
START QB DavidGarrard, TE Jeff King, WR Dennis Northcutt
SIT RB DeShaunFoster, RB DeAngelo Williams, K John Kasay
This is aMonday-night matchup only a fantasy player could love, as Atlanta's 31st-rankedscoring offense meets New Orleans's 27th-ranked passing defense. TheX¬†factor is Chris Redman, who had 172¬†yards and two TDs for theFalcons in relief of an ineffective Joey Harrington last Sunday. The presenceof an apparently competent quarterback makes Roddy White a more attractive playthan usual and adds some luster to potential sleepers Michael Jenkins and JoeHorn; those receivers are particularly tempting because they will be covered byJason David, the league's most toastable corner. For New Orleans, Drew Breesshould have his way with a passing defense ranked 27th in sacks and 29th inred-zone efficiency. Another curiosity is that this game features two of theleague's most stoppable runners: Reggie Bush, who gains no yards or worse on12.5% of his carries, and Warrick Dunn, who gets similarly bottled up 13.9% ofthe time.
START QB DrewBrees, Saints and Falcons WRs
SIT RB Reggie Bush,RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler
COLTS AT RAVENS
When Indianapolislost Marvin Harrison to injury--he has missed seven games this season--itallowed opposing defenses to focus on the Colts' other pass catchers, such asDallas Clark. The tight end had five TDs in five games with Harrison and thennone in three straight without him. But in the last two games Indy seems tohave adjusted to life without its Hall of Fame receiver; Clark has three scoresin that span, and rookie Anthony Gonzalez (right) had his first 100-yard gamein Week¬†12. Those two will be getting plenty of balls against a Ravens Dthat has been wounded by the pass lately. Baltimore remains very good againstthe run, but not good enough to keep Joseph Addai from getting his yards. SinceWeek¬†6 Willis McGahee has been the lone offensive bright spot for theRavens, and he should get his 20 carries against the Colts' middling rushdefense. Baltimore's Derrick Mason is among the league leaders in receptions,but he has not been finding the end zone, and he won't against one of theleague's top pass defenses.
START RB WillisMcGahee, WR Anthony Gonzalez, TE Dallas Clark
SIT WR DerrickMason, Ravens D
Seattle loves tosack the quarterback. The Seahawks are among the best in the league at it, with36 knockdowns, and that's particularly bad news for Arizona when you considerthe immobility of Kurt Warner (left) and his propensity for fumbles--he hasnine already despite having started the season behind Matt Leinart. Even feeblepass rushes like the 49ers' and the Bengals' have gotten to Warner, so Seattleshould really rough him up and will likely force some turnovers. Also, Warnerwill be hurt by Larry Fitzgerald's groin injury; even if Fitzgerald plays, hecould be hampered. One Cardinal for whom the numbers are favorable, though, isEdgerrin James, who has 307¬†yards in his three games for Arizona againstthe Seahawks. In Week¬†2 Edge went for 128¬†yards and a touchdownagainst Seattle, his best game of the season. For the Seahawks' offense, BobbyEngram has emerged as Matt Hasselbeck's go-to receiver.
START RB EdgerrinJames, WR Bobby Engram, Seahawks D
SIT QB Kurt Warner,WR Larry Fitzgerald
Here's anunsettling trend for owners of Chiefs players: The team has averaged just 12points in its last four games (all losses); in other words, there haven'texactly been touchdowns to spread around. The bright spot lately has been KolbySmith, who has given life to the Chiefs' ground game and gets a shot at theBroncos' soft run defense. Denver's running back of the week--start whomever itis--appears to be Travis Henry, who returned from injury and rushed for two TDsin Oakland last week. (The rub is that Henry is facing a possible drugsuspension.) The running game will be attractive to both teams because neitheris finding its wideouts all that well. Last week the Chiefs benched Damon Huardin favor of Coastal Carolina legend Tyler Thigpen; for Denver it doesn't lookas if Javon Walker, back from a knee injury, has recovered sufficiently to givethe Broncos' aerial game the desired spark.
START RB KolbySmith, TE Tony Gonzalez, TE Tony Scheffler
SIT RB SelvinYoung, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Javon Walker
A road game in NewEngland is no vacation, but at least it will get Pittsburgh away from HeinzField's slippery sod; playing the last two weeks in wet conditions at home, theSteelers scored only a field goal against Miami, and the rain was a factor in aBen Roethlisberger interception against Cincinnati. This might seem like alousy week to start Big Ben (above), but he has a decent enough track recordwhen facing Bill Belichick's defense, with four TDs and zero interceptions intwo regular-season games. He'll likely try to follow a game plan influenced bythe ones Indianapolis and Philadelphia employed in their near-topplings of thePatriots: He'll stretch the field with Hines Ward (or better yet, SantonioHolmes if he's healthy) and work underneath with short passes to Willie Parker.Not only will Fast Willie get more catches than usual (his high game is four),but he'll be assured of goal line carries if Najeh Davenport, who was a latescratch last week against Cincinnati, sits again.
START QB BenRoethlisberger, RB Willie Parker, most Patriots
SIT RB LaurenceMaroney, TE Heath Miller
If this game hasgood quarterback play, it will be a reversal of recent history. Donovan McNabb,expected to return at starter after missing two games with an ankle injury,will face a defense led by former Philly assistant Steve Spagnuolo that sackedMcNabb a record-tying 12¬†times back in September. (At least left tackleWilliam Thomas, who missed the earlier game, is back.) For New¬†York, EliManning looks primed for another late-season swoon, having thrown fourtouchdown passes against eight interceptions over the last four games. Some whomight shine: Brandon Jacobs, who returns from injury and is averaging5.3¬†yards per carry, and L.J. Smith (right), who had seven catches for 111yards when these teams met in Philadelphia last season.
START RB BrandonJacobs, TE L.J. Smith, Giants D
SIT QB EliManning, QB Donovan McNabb, TE Jeremy Shockey
When Cincinnativisited Pittsburgh last Sunday night, John Madden described the Steelers'defense as having "covered the heck out of the Bengals' receivers."Given the secondaries in this game, it's unlikely that anyone will be"covering the heck out of" anything. In what should be a pass-heavyaffair, five receivers will be worthy of starts, beginning with blue-chippersTorry Holt and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Chad Johnson could easily have his secondgreat game in the last three weeks, and Chris Henry, Cincy's third receiver, isalso worth a go. Then there's Isaac Bruce, the recently rediscovered35-year-old, who has three TDs in his last four games and is taking action awayfrom teammate Drew Bennett. The wild card for the St.¬†Louis passing gameis whether Marc Bulger or Gus Frerotte will get the start at quarterback. Ifit's Frerotte, who is just waiting to be plucked from the waiver wire, there'sa decent chance he'll put up good numbers; he has thrown for three touchdownsin two of his three complete games this year.
START QB CarsonPalmer, RB Steven Jackson, K Shayne Graham
SIT RB KennyWatson, WR Drew Bennett
What will you seewhen a banged-up Brett Favre meets an Oakland defense that allows149.7¬†rushing yards per game? Probably a heavy dose of Packers runningback Ryan Grant, who has been averaging 4.9¬†yards per carry since takingover the starting job in Week¬†9. But Green Bay loves the passing game toomuch to forget about it for long, even against the Raiders' highly-ranked passdefense; expect touchdown machine Greg Jennings (10¬†scores) to get hischances. Oakland's best weapon is its own midseason replacement starter atrunning back, Justin Fargas. The fifth-year player has been averaging4.8¬†yards per carry and, more important, he has averaged 24.6¬†carriesover the last five games. With the Raiders needing to set up their passing gamewith the run, Fargas should continue his workhorse ways. Oakland receiverRonald Curry has shown flashes this season, but he hasn't made it to the endzone since Week¬†7.
START RB JustinFargas, RB Ryan Grant, WR Greg Jennings
SIT WR RonaldCurry, WR Jerry Porter
Having lineup problems? David Sabino fields yourfantasy questions on Sunday mornings at SI.com/fantasy.
Running Backs: What Went Wrong PAGE F12
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CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI (BARBER)
HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES (GAGE)
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ICON SMI (WARNER)
AL TIELEMANS (ROETHLISBERGER)
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