LaDainian Tomlinson: Harry How/Getty Images
As for the Raiders ... I had strong hopes for RB Darren McFadden (8 total yards) and TE Zach Miller leading up to kickoff. But once the Chargers assumed a big lead early on, D-Mac essentially became secondary to the passing game, while Miller (8 catches, 64 yards) had a pedestrian scoring night -- outside of those playing in Points Per Reception leagues. One last note: I'm giving little attention here to JaMarcus Russell for two reasons: 1) He left the game early, due to injury, at just 68 yards passing and two interceptions; and 2) If Russell has been your regular QB starter in fantasyland, chances are you missed the playoffs anyway, Einstein.
Before I address the Mail Call later on, I would like to clarify one thing about tabbing Willis McGahee for greatness in Week 14. I know Willis has been running backa non grata since his 121-yard, 2-TD day against the Texans in Week 10, ceding all the carries to rookie Ray Rice and second-year bulldozer LeRon McClain. But I am not convinced that McGahee is now the Edgerrin James of the AFC, a once-great back reduced to mop-up duty. No, no, no, quite the contrary. If you recall, McGahee's great performance against Houston last month came out of the blue, at a time when the Baltimore coaches weren't even sure if he was healthy enough to suit up (it's known in the biz as "sandbagging"). In other words, I sense another sneak-attack coming against the hated Redskins this week. I have a simple gut feeling -- with no inside information to brag about -- that McGahee will not only suit up but post LT-like numbers of 91 total yards and one touchdown.
At first blush ... at second blush, Reggie Bush's 32-yard performance against Tampa Bay in Week 13 was the stuff of fantasy roadkill. But after reviewing the tape, via "NFL Replay" on The NFL Network, Bush's highly anticipated return from injury (he tore an MCL joint in his knee on Oct. 19) wasn't so bad. Hear me out: Yes, the Saints had zero confidence in running Reggie between the tackles; and yes, Drew Brees seemed a little frustrated with Bush's inability to pick-up blitzes, but Reggie resembled his old shifty self once he possessed the ball in open spaces. And let's give him credit for displaying some good moves on the Bucs' chewed-up home turf, due to rain. Bottom line: I expect a 150-percent improvement from Bush this week against the Falcons, while running on the cushy, Flubber-like surface at the Superdome. At the very least, you cannot afford to bench him in PPR leagues (unless you already have Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson toting the rock ahead of him) -- unless you're comfortable with regretting such a move for the next eight months, leading up to the '09 fantasy-draft season.
1. Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
2. Philadelphia @ N.Y. Giants
3. N.Y. Jets @ San Francisco
4. Kansas City @ Denver
5. St. Louis @ Arizona
Fifteen years from now, NFL historians will revere the RB Class of '08 in the same way the QB Class of '83 has been deified. We're talking 10 potential franchise backs -- Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Kevin Smith, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall (out for the season) and Jamaal Charles, to name a few. Here are some Week 11 projections for the '08 class, courtesy of Pigskin Addiction:
Chris Johnson, Titans: 150 yards, 2 TDs
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: 50 yards
Ray Rice, Ravens: 90 total yards
Steve Slaton, Texans: 100 total yards, 1 TD
Kevin Smith, Lions: 75 total yards
Matt Forte, Bears: 150 total yards, 2 TDs
Tim Hightower: Cardinals: 100 yards, 1 TD
1. Larry Fitzgerald vs. St. Louis
2. Roddy White vs. New Orleans
3. Marques Colston vs. Atlanta
4. Brandon Marshall vs. Kansas City
5. Reggie Wayne vs. Cincinnati
6. Anquan Boldin vs. St. Louis
7. Dwayne Bowe vs. Denver
8. Derrick Mason vs. Washington
9. Andre Johnson vs. Green Bay
10. Chad Johnson vs. Indianapolis
11. Calvin Johnson vs. Minnesota
12. Santonio Holmes vs. Dallas
13. Lee Evans vs. Miami
Tony Gonzalez: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Chuck in Long Beach says: I have way too much time to overanalyze my lineup, so tell me I'm crazy for wanting to start Tim Hightower instead of Marion Barber. Hightower has a tasty matchup against the Rams, but if MB3 ends up outscoring him with a bad toe and against a tough Steelers defense, I'm going to cancel Christmas and go into hibernation.
Answer: Chuck, for the love of Peter, Paul and/or Mary, please don't put any more pressure on me by threatening to hibernate from Christmas -- which isn't so bad if you're single, but heartbreaking if you're a parent. OK, here's my No. 1 Rule for the Playoffs: NEVER bench your healthy studs playing in fair weather. However, in Barber's case, he's battling a toe injury, facing a stout Steelers D, playing on a chewed-up turf at Heinz Field (although the club apparently installed new -- slippery -- grass) AND the weather could be gawd-awful come Sunday (snow and wind). Since it's the playoffs, I'm calling on you to rely on your gut instincts here. So, if you are supremely confident in Hightower's cake matchup against St. Louis -- like "120 yards and 1 TD confident" -- then start him and don't look back! Otherwise ... ride your stud.
Joe from Endicott, N.Y. writes: Whom would you start of these three running backs -- Chester Taylor, Kevin Smith, Willie Parker? This is crunch time for me in the playoffs. Please help.
Answer: Here's how I'd rank the RBs: 1) Willie P. 2) Chester 3) Kevin Smith (if the Vikings' D-tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams, have their four-game suspensions lifted by Sunday. Otherwise, I'd go 1) Willie P. 2) K. Smith 3) Chester (if the suspensions hold up).
LT in Cleveland wonders: Should I start Ben Roethlisberger or Gus Frerotte this week? And should I start the Giants defense/special teams or Cowboys defense?
Answer: I actually have Big Ben and Frerotte as "Locks for 275 yards and/or 3 TDs" in Fantasy Clicks, so you can hardly go wrong either way. However, when in doubt, ride your healthy studs -- unless the weather in Pittsburgh come 4:15 on Sunday is too unbearable. I suggest keeping track of things on Weather.com OR, since you live in Cleveland, simply look out the window and make your decision then ... HA! Regarding the defenses, I know there's been plenty of turmoil at the Giants' complex this week, and sure, Antonio Pierce might not play because of the whole Plax Being Plax mess. But I still prefer the Giants' D at home over the Cowboys (especially since Big Ben and Fast Willie should are due for strong games).
Ciaran in Gwanju, Korea asks: Should I start Dwayne Bowe against the Broncos (poor D) in Denver or Terrell Owens in Pittsburgh this weekend, given that I'm already starting Cowboys TE Jason Witten against the Steelers' No. 1 defense?
Answer: This is an excellent question about diversification. Ciaran, if you are supremely confident that T.O. will have a good day against Pittsburgh on Sunday -- a performance significantly better than Kansas City's Bowe -- then you shouldn't worry too much about how Witten will fare for Dallas in the same game. For all you know, T.O. could be in-line for 120 yards and two touchdowns, while Witten pulls down only one pass -- but it's a 24-yard scoring catch. Bottom line: Play the percentages and start the best players every time out, especially in the playoffs. With that said, Bowe has an envious matchup against Denver (in good weather, as well) ... whereas the cold, wind and snow of Pittsburgh may not lend itself to a ton of Tony Romo passes. Stick with your gut instinct here ... and stay atop of the Pittsburgh weather -- from kickoff to the final gun.
Bob in Pasadena has a quick-hitter: Which of these three RBs would you start this week: Matt Forte, LenDale White or Joseph Addai?
Answer: Have you seen Jacksonville play lately, Bob? The Jags are in full-on freefall mode, which means Forte (632 total yards, 4 TDs in his last five games) is a must-start in the friendly, wintry confines of Soldier Field. I also loooooooooove Addai's two games with the Bengals and Lions in the next nine days -- hence, I can think of no conceivable reason to bench him in favor of LenDale.
Gary in Elizabethtown, Ky. has a dilemma: I have Brandon Jacobs, Matt Forte and Peyton Hillis this week. Which two RBs would you start? I need to win this game to make the playoffs.
Answer: Are you really going to enter the game of your fantasy life (at least this year's version of it) with a healthy Brandon Jacobs or Matt Forte on the bench? Yes, I fully realize that Hillis (225 total yards, 4 TDs in his last two games) has been money for the Broncos of late, but his recent spurt in no way trumps the proven home-run potential of Jacobs and Forte -- especially when they have good home matchups in Week 14. You can do what you want, of course; but I'd go with Jacobs and Forte, in a heartbeat.
Greg in San Antonio says: Jay Clemons, thank you for confirming what I've been asserting for years, mainly, that Val Kilmer's career peaked with his role in Real Genius. I also firmly assert that Real Genius was one of the most underrated comedy films of all time, an absolute smorgasbord of one-liners. Keep up the good work!
Answer: Whoa, Greg! I never said anything about Val Kilmer's highly versatile career peaking at 'Real Genius.' He was amazing in Top Secret and The Doors, he was awe-inspiring in Tombstone, Thunderheart and Heat. For the love of god, he has also had two of the coolest jobs in TV -- playing "The Sherpa" in one of the funniest episodes of Entourage AND he's the current voice of "K.I.T.T" on the new Knight Rider. My only declaration was that Real Genuis -- "Pacific Tech Presents ... Smart People on Ice!" -- is easily the most underrated comedy in the history of cinema (not to oversell it, though).
In every Wednesday Clicks, I faithfully list the Targets -- the number of times per game a receiver or tight end gets thrown to. But, as a reader recently pointed out, I never release Target information with running backs -- which is an unpardonable sin on my part since Reggie Bush and Frank Gore are carrying my teams in one or both of my Point-Per-Reception (PPR) leagues. So, without further ado, here are the Top 20 running backs in Targets (per game) through Week 14:
1. Reggie Bush, Saints (8.7 Targets)
2. Frank Gore, 49ers (5.3 Targets)
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (5.3 Targets)
4. Brian Westbrook, Eagles (5.2 Targets)
5. Matt Forte, Bears (4.9 Targets)
6. Kevin Faulk, Patriots (4.9 Targets)
7. Marion Barber, Cowboys (4.8 Targets)
8. Marshawn Lynch, Bills (4.8 Targets)
9. Steven Jackson, Rams (4.8 Targets)
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (4.4 Targets)
11. Warrick Dunn, Bucs (4.3 Targets)
12. Chris Johnson, Titans (4.2 Targets)
13. Derrick Ward, Giants (4.1 Targets)
14. Dominic Rhodes, Colts (4.0 Targets)
15. Leon Washington, Jets (3.9 Targets)
16. Mewelde Moore, Steelers (3.8 Targets)
17. Jerious Norwood, Falcons (3.8 Targets)
18. Ray Rice, Ravens (3.7 Targets)
19. Joseph Addai, Colts (3.6 Targets)
20. Chester Taylor, Vikings (3.5 Targets)
1. T.J. Houshmandzadeh (I'm having chest pains while writing this)
2. Marion Barber (dye to the Steelers' stout run D, his bad ankle and the horrible Heinz turf)
3. LenDale White (this is Chris Johnson's show, for once)
4. Michael Turner
5. Peyton Hillis (he'll get decent yards this week, but no scores)
With the fantasy regular season now just a memory, it's the perfect time to hearken back at some of the high draft picks that, um, simply didn't work out -- for whatever reason. Our friends at The Chicago Tribune have compiled a controversial list of the "Ten Biggest Fantasy Busts of 2008," so please don't kill the messenger here (with emails, emails, emails) when you see who takes the cake at No. 1.
1. WR James Hardy (vs. Dolphins)
2. WR Anthony Gonzalez (vs. Bengals)
3. TE John Carlson (vs. Patriots)
4. RB Cadillac Williams (vs. Panthers -- the same stadium where he sustained that horrible injury in '07)
5. RB Chester Taylor (vs. Bucs)