There's no I in team, but there are players who are thriving—or fading—because of the talent around them
NO MATTER how skilled a player may be, his fantasy value is often dictated by the abilities of his supporting cast. As Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald proves, when a team unravels, it can neutralize even its most dangerous of weapons. As the regular season winds down, here are the players who are rising or falling because of their teammates' successes or failures.
• Matt Cassel, QB,Chiefs
Behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, Kansas City has produced the league's best rushing attack for most of the season, but since mid-October the passing game has been just as effective, thanks to Cassel. The key to the second-year starter's success has been the performance of receiver Dwayne Bowe, who's put together an outstanding string of 10 touchdowns in six weeks. As a result Cassel has become one of the highest scoring fantasy passers in the game, and with the Seahawks, Broncos and Chargers coming up in the next three weeks, he's worth starting from here on.
• Mark Sanchez, QB,Jets
Over the past several weeks there's no passer-receiver duo more clutch than Sanchez and Santonio Holmes. Three weeks ago Sanchez found the former Super Bowl MVP with a 52-yard pass in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal in Detroit. A week later they connected for a 37-yard game-winner in overtime in Cleveland, and on Sunday they struck again for a game-winner in the waning seconds of a come-from-behind defeat of the Texans. That connection has boosted Sanchez's fantasy stats and made him one of the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks.
• Randy Moss, WR,Titans
Moss is used to playing with Super Bowl--caliber quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Kerry Collins) or at least a college great (Vince Young), but last week he was running routes for a rookie sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, Rusty Smith, after Young tore a thumb tendon. Either way, Moss has only one catch in two games with Tennessee, and he has become a fantasy liability who can no longer be relied on.
• Ronnie Brown, RB,Dolphins
With injuries to its top two quarterbacks, top receiver and top two centers, Miami's offense is in shambles, as evidenced by a 16--0 loss to the Bears at home. Brown, too, has been a shell of his former self, failing to reach 100 yards from scrimmage this year. Over the last two weeks he's been held to a total of 21 yards on 15 carries. Week 15 and 16 matchups against the run-soft Bills and Lions are the only reason to consider keeping him, but in general he's too risky a play.
• Clinton Portis, RB,Redskins
The perennial 1,000-yard rusher pulled his groin in Week 4 and finally made it back against the Titans, only to find that the offense is now centered around QB Donovan McNabb and running back Keiland Williams. And then, when it looked as if Portis might restore his prominence on Sunday (five carries, 32 yards), he reaggravated the injury.
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If you need to win this week to get into the playoffs, you already have a solid team, so there's not much to say besides good luck. But if your lineup is set for this week or you've already qualified for the playoffs, it's time to start planning for the postseason. Whether it's picking starters or filling out your roster, think about a team's schedule and location. Teams in the Northeast and upper Midwest often hit tough weather this time of year. Those conditions usually force them to run more, so look to pick up or play backs from those regions. Receivers, on the other hand, will see less action as snow falls and temperatures drop. Some quality cold-weather backs who might be available are the Bears' Matt Forte, the Packers' John Kuhn, and the Ravens' Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain.
JOSH UMPHREY/GETTY IMAGES (CASSEL)
COMMANDING CHIEF Cassel has been on fire in recent weeks, thanks to a red-hot streak from his top wide receiver.
JEFFREY GELLER/ICON SMI (JONES-DREW)
PETER READ MILLER (FORTE)