December 10, 2010

Most fantasy owners got a good dose of what they've been missing in Thursday's Colts-Titans game ­ ­­-- Chris Johnson got his electric groove back while Peyton Manning hit the 300-yard mark, and more important, stopped throwing to the wrong team. As the Titans continued their downward spiral and the Colts -- clearly not used to resting their starters at this point of the season -- snapped their skid, the curtain raised on the fantasy playoffs and the plots thickened.

What I Loved

Welcome back, Chris Johnson: After two terrible weeks, Johnson finally delivered and not too soon. The top pick in fantasy football showed why in snapping his slump. Johnson accounted for 179 yards of total offense and a touchdown. But the biggest surprise came in the passing game, where he snagged a team-best eight passes for 68 yards for his best receiving performance of the year in catches and yards.

What I Liked

Peyton Manning, hero: After 11 interceptions in the past four games, Manning finally snapped out of his funk, delivering a 300-yard effort with two touchdown strikes. It was nothing fancy, but owners who have taken it on the chin in recent weeks will accept a ground-rule double sort of performance this time of the year.

What I (Kind of) Liked, Part 2

Catching up with ... Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon: The accidental deflection by Blair White on a sure TD catch by Wayne ended up being the lone hiccup in what was a great night for both receivers going over 100 yards, with Garcon scoring twice. What made Garcon's night bittersweet, however, is that this year he's been mostly either injured or invisible, leaving many owners with him likely on the bench for tonight's breakout. Wayne on the other hand, seems to be picking up momentum with three top-notch performances out of his last four games.

What I Disliked, Part 1

The Invisible Man: Randy Moss. At this point any owners still playing him are either certifiable or dishonorably fled their free Internet league teams weeks ago. Kenny Britt came back and looked decent in Moss' spot, as the expiration date is clearly past the point of no return on this enigma. The law of diminishing results jig is up with Moss, while it's not a coincidence that teams he's played on have a 1-9 record the last 10 weeks. If he finishes the season still on a team, real or fantasy, I'll be surprised.

What I Disliked, Part 2

Dallas Clark 2.0 Jacob Tamme is not. While nobody expected him to be, Tamme's production in his first three starts (24 catches, 245 yards, two TDs) were way more than just Clark-lite. Weeks later and the shine is wearing off Tamme, who, despite some recent hamstring issues, has scored once in his last five games and not gone over 47 yards in his last two outings.

What I Can't Figure Out

Wayne continues to play amazing in road games. This season he has 55 catches for 727 yards and two TDs in away games compared to 39 catches for 486 and three scores at home.

Here are some prominent players guaranteed to shake off their recent slumps as this week's postseason begins.

QB Kyle Orton and WR Brandon Lloyd at the Cardinals: Often an interim coach injects new life into a struggling team, as Leslie Frazier did with the Vikings. Nothing against the Broncos' Eric Studesville, but the Cardinals, with their fourth-string QB John Skelton and their 24th -ranked pass defense should provide a big ball of sadness ready to be drop-kicked. After a down week against the Chiefs, expect the Broncos' passing game to find its wings.

RB Peyton Hillis at the Bills: Expect Cleveland to saddle up with Hillis as the Browns get to face the worst run defense in the league, allowing 170.9 yards per game. The Bills have been gashed for 200 in each of their last two games. Hillis is a must-start every week and this is the kind of matchup he could singlehandedly power any owner's fantasy team to a win with.

WR DeSean Jackson at the Cowboys: This should be a shootout, so don't worry about Jackson's recent disappearing act, going scoreless the past three weeks and averaging just over 50 yards in that span. Dallas' pass defense ranks 28th against the pass and has allowed 25 TD passes this season.

They may be underused, unknown or forgotten, there are always hidden points to be found either in the deep recesses of your digital bench or floating in the mix on waivers. Here are a few suggestions.

RB James Starks at the Lions: Last week with Brandon Jackson out of the picture, the Buffalo rookie emerged with 73 yards against the 49ers. This time out, Starks will prove he's no flash in the pan (at least for one more game) when he shreds the Lions and their 25th-ranked rush defense, which will be even worse without injured DE Kyle Vandenbosch who was placed on Injured Reserve this week.

WR Michael Crabtree vs. the Seahawks: QB Alex Smith is back at the helm in a make it or break it last stand for the 49ers, while Crabtree's sliding fantasy stock has the onetime flex option drifting on waivers or buried on the bench. This week offers pure opportunity for both, but especially Crabtree, who should explode against the Seahawks' putrid 30th-ranked pass defense while playing at home.

WR Lee Evans vs. the Browns: Last week Evans had a team-high 72 yards as teammate and waiver wonder Steve Johnson went into a funk. This week look for Evans to help out Ryan Fitzpatrick against the 20th-ranked pass defense of the Browns.

One of the best indicators of a pass catcher's value is how many times a quarterback throws his way, known as Targets. Here are the top 12 running backs and tight ends through 13 weeks.

Running backs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets 731. Frank Gore, 49ers 733. Jahvid Best, Lions 694. LeSean McCoy, Eagles 685. Peyton Hillis, Browns 676. Ray Rice, Ravens 647. Arian Foster, Texans 598. Cadillac Williams, Bucs 549. Darren Sproles, Chargers 5210. Darren McFadden, Raiders 4810. Matt Forte, Bears 4812. Mike Goodson, Panthers 47

Tight ends

1. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions 902. Jason Witten, Cowboys 893. Chris Cooley, Redskins 864. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons 855. Kellen Winslow, Bucs 786. Ben Watson, Browns 777. Dustin Keller, Jets 758. Vernon Davis, 49ers 729. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals 7010. Antonio Gates, Chargers 6611. Jacob Tamme, Colts 6312. Zach Miller, Raiders 62

1. Eagles at Cowboys2. Raiders at Jaguars3. Broncos at Cardinals4. Giants at Vikings5. Ravens at Texans

The Cassel conundrum: This week's OMG moment comes courtesy of Chiefs' QB Matt Cassel, whose appendix decided to pick this, of all weeks, to self-destruct on him. By now everyone knows about his appendectomy Wednesday, leaving the startable stock of No. 1 fantasy wide receiver and Cassel's teammate, Dwayne Bowe, up in the air. Brodie Croyle is the starter should Cassel sit out, which doesn't inspire confidence.

The answer to if you should start Bowe has to begin with the question of what else is on your bench? I own Bowe in two of my leagues, and I am starting him in only one. The league I'm benching him in, I'll be starting Miles Austin in his place due to Dez Bryant being out, Jon Kitna's improvement and the high-scoring likelihood with the Eagles.

Those who want to stick with Bowe also have to keep in mind that the matchup is pretty tough. Bowe faces the top-ranked pass defense in the league and one that shut him down the last time they played (1 catch, 13 yards) with a healthy Cassel in Week 1. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own, but don't feel bad relegating him to a low-end WR3 or flex play this week and if there's a better option, don't be afraid to leave Bowe benched and live to start him another day.

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