Drew Brees: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
As for the Redskins, they likely earned more fantasy respect from Sunday's loss than any of their three wins this season -- which may be enough to motivate the masses to make genuine pitches for QB Jason Campbell (367 passing yards, 3 TDs), WR Devin Thomas (7 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs) and TE Fred Davis (5 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD) on this week's waiver wire. At the very least, the trio has done enough to make us realize that Santana Moss (5 catches, 68 yards), Rock Cartwright (70 total yards) and Antwaan Randle-El (4 catches, 73 yards) aren't the most intelligent plays for Washington in Week 14. And that, in a nutshell, represents tangible progress for this underachieving squad.
San Diego 30, Cleveland 23
With San Diego, we'd love nothing more than to trumpet the stellar play of QB Philip Rivers (373 passing yards, 2 TDs), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (85 total yards, 1 TD), RB Darren Sproles (93 total yards, 1 TD) and TE Antonio Gates (8 catches, 167 yards) ... but we're just too crestfallen over Vincent Jackson's fifth straight fantasy lemon (58, 10, 56, 27, 54 yards since Week 9). Seriously, what can be explained for V-Jax's sudden fall from grace? Five weeks ago, he was the No. 1 receiver in fantasyland; and now ... we'd rather have Chris Chambers, Robert Meachem or even Miami's latest flash in the pan.
Miami 22, New England 21
Regarding the Pats, nevermind the three Super Bowl rings from earlier in the decade or the 18-0 start to the '07 season. The team's aura of invincibility has been noticeably diluted by a bend-and-sometimes-break defense and the galling lack of offensive playmakers after Tom Brady (352 passing yards, 2 TDs), Wes Welker (10 catches, 167 yards) and Randy Moss (2 catches, 66 yards, 1 TD). Oh sure, the Holy Trinity of Brady-Moss-Welker is fun to discuss in fantasy circles ... but there's just no buzz accompanying Laurence Maroney (49 total yards), Sammy Morris (65 total yards) and Kevin Faulk (14 total yards); and it's hard to put any stock in Sam Aiken's 81-yard TD catch -- his only reception from a day in which Brady attempted 52 passes.
Cincinnati 23, Detroit 13
On the flip side ... check out the two NFL records that Cincinnati set on Sunday: From a team perspective, the club boasts the greatest one-year turnaround after 12 games in league history (1-10-1 in '08; 9-3 in '09); and from an individual standpoint, the Bengals are the first team to ever have three different tailbacks (Bernard Scott, Larry Johnson, Cedric Benson) crack 100 yards rushing in three successive weeks. (Thanks to FOX TV's Thom Brennaman for both nuggets.) In fantasy terms, though, Cincy is nothing more than a three-person circus from week to week (regardless of who's toting the rock) -- Carson Palmer (227 total yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), Benson (125 total yards) and WR Chad Ochocinco (9 catches, 137 yards, 1 TD) -- and their starts largely depend on the matchups. Luckily for fantasy owners, they're solid plays in Weeks 14-16 (Minnesota, San Diego, Kansas City).
Correll Buckhalter (28) and Knowshon Moreno: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The Chiefs may have (miserably) failed with their first of three straight home tests. But hath no fear, for the Bills and Browns are set to invade Arrowhead in the very-near future ... and stars like Jamaal Charles (59 total yards, 1 TD), Chris Chambers (2 catches, 11 yards) and Dwayne Bowe (returning in Week 15) are all threats for 100 yards/1 TD in each game (two TDs in Charles' case). As for QB Matt Cassel (101 total yards, zero TDs, 2 INTs), we're not going to walk the fantasy-playoff plank on his sorry behalf next week (despite the Bills' defensive woes) ... but we still believe he's a viable option for fantasy-championship contenders in Week 16 against Cleveland, even if that means being the subject of much Twitter ridicule over the next 13 days.
Arizona 30, Minnesota 17
On the flip side, the Vikings probably deserve a mulligan for their fantasy clunker against the Cards. From Brett Favre (275 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) and Sidney Rice (7 catches, 72 yards) to Visanthe Shiancoe (2 catches, 14 yards, 1 TD) and Adrian Peterson (65 total yards) ... it's best to just skip past any short-term thoughts and focus on the bigger fantasy picture -- like Minnesota's clashes with Cincinnati and Carolina in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively: Is it possible the Vikings have encountered the NFL's toughest 1-2 scheduling punch during the fantasy playoffs? Along those lines, will fantasy owners live to regret not selling high on Favre, Rice, Shiancoe, Chester Taylor and Bernard Berrian before the trade deadlines? Hmmmm ... only time will tell.
N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 24
The Giants also had their share of fantasy wonders, albeit on a smaller scale: From Eli Manning (241 passing yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon Jacobs (113 total yards, 2 TDs) to Hakeem Nicks (2 catches, 37 yards, 1 TD) and Steve Smith (6 catches, 110 yards) ... it was enough to make us wonder if New York could actually emerge from its 60-day slumber and be significant contributors during the fantasy playoffs -- coinciding with their real-world efforts to capture a once-unlikely division title (Philly in Week 14; Washington in Week 15).
Indianapolis 27, Tennessee 17
The Titans' starting options, on the other hand, are limited to one, as in RB Chris Johnson (141 total yards). Yes, Bo Scaife (5 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD) is a more palatable tight end with Vince Young under center; and yes, emerging rookie Kenny Britt (3 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD) should be a lineup consideration every Sunday. But if you're playing Young (257 yards, 2 TDs), Scaife or Britt during the fantasy playoffs, your team is either racked with injuries ... or Tennessee's run of three straight home games (St. Louis, Miami, San Diego) is simply too tempting to pass up.
Seattle 20, San Francisco 17
Speaking of that better team ... the legend of Vernon Davis (6 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) continues to grow by the game. We're also glad to see that Alex Smith (310 passing yards, 2 TDs) has yet to dedicate his life to medicine, mathematics, cyclotronics or whatever occupation brainiac students enter into after college; and it's only a matter of time before Michael Crabtree (6 catches, 60 yards) explodes for the first of many 100-yard games. (Perhaps that day will come in Week 14 when vs. Arizona.) In the meantime, fantasygoers can expect a monster rebound night from Frank Gore (62 total yards) next week ... and maybe another "special guest appearance" from Josh Morgan (76 total yards, 1 TD). Not unlike Heather Locklear coming back to Melrose Place.
Bruce Gradkowski: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
On the flip side, we recommend starting every big-name Steeler down the stretch -- even if the club keeps imploding in real-world circles. From Ben Roethlisberger (285 total yards, 2 TDs) and RB Rashard Mendenhall (103 yards, 1 TD) to Santonio Holmes (8 catches, 149 yards) and Hines Ward (6 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD), this quartet is an easy lock to put up huge numbers in Weeks 14 (@ Cleveland) and 15 (vs. Green Bay). And if they're still in the playoff hunt or hungry for vengeance come Week 16, they're solid picks for fantasy goodness in the Ravens rematch. Of course, we seriously doubt the Pittsburgh sports radio stations are focusing on the positives right now -- like us. HA!
Jacksonville 23, Houston 18
The only positives (and that's being kind) involved the quarterbacks, David Garrard (251 total yards, 2 TDs) and Matt Schaub (214 total yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). But then again, neither QB has shown the recent consistentcy to be rubber-stamped as automatic starters during the fantasy playoffs -- even with their easy-cheesy matchups for Week 14 (Seattle @ Houston; Miami @ Jacksonville).
Philadelphia 34, Atlanta 7
Regarding the 6-6 Falcons, let's start with the good news: Whether in blowouts or close games ... or whether it's Matt Ryan or Chris Redman at quarterback, WR Roddy White (9 catches, 104 yards, 1 TD) and TE Tony Gonzalez (8 catches, 72 yards) are still pulling their respective weights in fantasyland -- which should encourage reticent fantasy owners to start either one against the 12-0 Saints in Week 14, if Redman (235 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) is calling the shots. Now for the bad news: If you're riding Redman, Jason Snelling (52 total yards) or Jerious Norwood (42 total yards) during the fantasy playoffs -- as replacements for Ryan or Michael Turner -- it might be time to seek out another team for unexpected fantasy goodness. Like Chicago.
Chicago 17, St. Louis 9
As for the Rams, there's not much to report here. Steven Jackson (121 total yards) has been the ultimate RB2 all season (even though you spent a Round 1 pick on him). QB Kyle Boller (113 passing yards, zero TDs) has less fantasy cachet than his main squeeze, Carrie Prejean. Donnie Avery (45 total yards), Brandon Gibson (3 catches, 38 yards) and Danny Amendola (8 total yards) belong on the waiver wire in 10- or 12-team leagues. And Kenneth Darby (18 total yards) may be the least effective second-string tailback in the NFL (blame Jackson for that). Put it all together and St. Louis is at least 2-3 years from being respectable in real-world circles and wholly relevant in fantasyland.
Carolina 16, Tampa Bay 6
Last but not least, we have the harrowing tale of Bucs QB Josh Freeman, who somehow managed to throw for 321 yards, zero TDs and five -- count' em, FIVE! -- interceptions without beating his head up against the sideline bench or getting pulled by coach Raheem Morris. Now, there's two ways of looking at Freeman's day in Carolina: The optimist would point out that Freeman has made tangible strides after each start -- including Week 13, as he wisely focused on Antonio Bryant (5 catches, 116 yards) and Kellen Winslow (4 catches, 69 yards) during stressful snaps. The optimist would also regale everyone with a (recent) history lesson: Seven days after throwing five INTs against the Panthers in Week 8, Cardinals QB Kurt Warner rolled for 261 yards and five TDs; and two weeks after tossing five INTs against Seattle, fellow rookie Matthew Stafford amassed 422 passing yards and five TDs in Week 11.
Of course, Freeman doesn't have the luxury of facing the Bears or Browns next week ... he gets the Herculean task of trying to solve the NFL's modern-day version of Rubik's Cube, aka Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Score one for the pessimists!
Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night (@SI_JayClemons), accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can also read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday and Monday during the NFL season.