Ryan Moats: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Q: How do you know when a head coach is fibbing? A: His lips are moving.
At this stage in the game, I can only take a head coach's on-record assessment of his players -- especially running backs -- with a grain of salt. Case in point: Houston backup RB Arian Foster ended up getting more carries/receptions/total yards than Ryan Moats on Sunday -- as a direct result of the Texans' surprisingly easy 34-7 win over the Seahawks (read: garbage-time fun). And then on Monday afternoon, coach Gary Kubiak offered this vague praise for Foster, inexplicably setting the fantasy world on its ear: "We were impressed with what Foster came in and did yesterday ... He can learn a lot of things, but he handled his job in protection for the most part pretty good. I think we'll just get him involved more and give him an opportunity."
When you break down the quote, Kubiak provides zero insight as to whether Foster has usurped Moats (1 TD vs. Seattle) or goal-line specialist Chris Brown for Houston's Week 15 road clash with St. Louis. And yet, I fielded plenty of Tuesday Tweets from the fantasy masses, wondering if they should dump Moats outright for Foster. Ridiculous! In fact, MJShupe78 felt the need to argue on Foster's behalf with 10 successive Tweets -- none revealing why Moats (371 total yards, 4 TDs in just 85 touches in 2009) warrants being replaced by a fourth-stringer (Foster) who is simply an interim placeholder for the injured Steve Slaton.
Looking at the big picture, the above rant isn't about Foster, Moats or even MJShupe, per se. In case you haven't noticed, it's Week 15 of the NFL season -- traditionally the semifinals week for fantasy leagues around the world! So, unless your fantasy backfield has been ravaged by injuries (Slaton, Kevin Smith, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, etc.) ... are you really going into battle with guys who've flourished in garbage-time situations and/or still lag behind two healthy runners? (Bottom line: PLAY YOUR STARS!) Hmmmm ... the more I rant, the more I think we should bust out a sampling of unimpeachable rules to follow this week -- all don'ts!
1. Don't mess with stifling December winds in the Northeast, Northwest, Midwest or Colorado: Checking the weekend weather reports for Buffalo | Pittsburgh | East Rutherford, N.J. | Baltimore | Philadelphia | Seattle | Washington, D.C. and Denver ... a handful of games AND countless players could be adversely affected by a dispiriting combination of howling crosswinds, bitter-cold temperatures and/or heavy snow. In other words, NO quarterback or wide receiver playing in the above cities should be rubber-stamped as a starter for Week 15. Bad weather has ruined many fantasy championships over the years -- just be prepared to start Joe Flacco or Kenny Britt in emergency situations. Thankfully, bad weather only has a minimal impact with fantasy rushers ... so feel free to start your best studs on Sunday.
2. Don't blow off the potential treasure trove that is Browns-Chiefs: Oh sure, it's fair to wonder if both teams could combine their best players into one unit ... and actually beat the Colts or Saints; but that doesn't mean the balls won't be flying around Arrowhead OR that Jamaal Charles cannot register 181 total yards in back-to-back home games. In fact, we'd be shocked if this clash weren't among the top-5 highest-scoring games of Week 15. Just don't start Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn -- unless it's absolutely necessary.
3. Don't sweat the small stuff or small people -- like kickers and defenses: It bears repeating from last week: If you have a top-10 kicker, don't mess with success. And if you have a top-10 defense or one that gets to face Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, St. Louis or Tampa Bay in Weeks 15, 16 or 17 ... therein lies the key to playoff success!
4. Don't look at your playoff opponent's starting lineup ... until setting yours first: We're not saying your starting lineup -- and maximum capacity for total points -- exists in a vaccuum during this time. But if at all possible, avoid making lineup decisions based on your opponent's strategy: For example, say your competition is starting Chad Henne at quarterback. When it comes down to choosing your flex guy, don't take a Dolphins wide receiver (like Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Ted Ginn, Jr.) as a transparent ruse to cherry-pick points off Henne against Tennessee in Week 15. If you have better options than Ginn/Camarillo/Bess at the WR2 OR flex spots ... simply start 'em and let the chips fall where they may. And whenever in doubt, just choose the pass-catcher with more targets in the last 3-5 weeks.
5. Don't expect yours truly to answer desperate Tweets from 12:35-12:55 p.m. this Sunday: When prizes and/or bragging rights are at stake during the playoffs, it's permissible for so-called fantasy experts to focus on their own lineups -- especially when bad weather and brand-name inactives are suddenly in play (DeAngelo Williams comes to mind). In fact, with the chance to advance to four fantasy Super Bowls, perhaps we'll move Sunday's dead period up 10 minutes.
6. Don't take Gary Kubiak at his word about ANY running back: Need we remind you ... he's a disciple of Mike Shanahan -- perish the fantasy thought.
Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe can officially return to his team this week, after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy. In most circumstances, Bowe would be a must-bench for at least one week ... but there's simply no time for avoiding a defensive patsy like the Browns (especially with the game in Kansas City). The way we see it, the regret of NOT starting Bowe (10 catches/165 yards in Weeks 9/10) exceeds the regret of starting him in Week 15.
1. Drew Brees vs. Dallas
2. Joe Flacco vs. Chicago
3. Kurt Warner @ Detroit
4. Matt Cassel vs. Cleveland
5. Donovan McNabb vs. San Francisco
6. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Green Bay
7. Matt Schaub @ St. Louis
8. Philip Rivers vs. Cincinnati
9. Matt Hasselbeck vs. Tampa Bay
10. Peyton Manning @ Jacksonville
A receiver is only as good as his quarterback ... and the number of opportunities he gets to make a catch (known as Targets -- an absolutely critical stat for PPR leagues). This underrated category is the best way to safeguard against one-hit wonders during a looooong fantasy season. To wit, SI.com presents a list of the 24 wideouts with at least 38 Targets since Week 10:
1. Brandon Marshall, Broncos -- 66 Targets
2. Wes Welker, Patriots -- 64 Targets
3. Roddy White, Falcons -- 62 Targets
4. Calvin Johnson, Lions -- 59 Targets
5. Santonio Holmes, Steelers -- 54
6. Andre Johnson, Texans -- 52
7. Sidney Rice, Vikings -- 51
8. Brandon Gibson, Rams -- 49
9. Miles Austin, Cowboys -- 47
10. Pierre Garcon, Colts -- 45
11. Hines Ward, Steelers -- 45
12. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals -- 44
13. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks -- 44
14. Derrick Mason, Ravens -- 44
15. Michael Crabtree, 49ers -- 43
16. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- 43
17. Randy Moss, Patriots -- 42
18. Steve Smith, Giants-- 42
19. Reggie Wayne, Colts -- 42
20. Terrell Owens, Bills -- 40
21. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals -- 39
22. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars-- 39
23. Donnie Avery, Rams -- 38
24. Santana Moss, Redskins -- 38
One good turn deserves another. Here are the 24 RBs with 15 or more Targets since Week 10:
1. Frank Gore, 49ers -- 31
2. Ray Rice, Ravens -- 31
3. Steven Jackson, Rams -- 30
4. Justin Forsett, Seahawks -- 26
5. Chris Johnson, Titans -- 26
6. Pierre Thomas, Saints -- 26
7. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs -- 24
8. Adrian Peterson, Vikings -- 24
9. Matt Forte, Bears -- 23
10. Kevin Faulk, Patriots -- 21
11. Jerome Harrison, Browns -- 21
12. Fred Jackson, Bills -- 21
13. Joseph Addai, Colts -- 19
14. LeSean McCoy, Eagles -- 19
15. Rock Cartwright, Redskins -- 18
16. Darren Sproles, Chargers -- 18
17. Chester Taylor, Vikings -- 18
18. Tim Hightower, Cardinals -- 16
19. Brandon Jackson, Packers-- 16
20. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- 16
21. Darren McFadden, Raiders -- 16
22. Steve Slaton, Texans -- 16
23. Jason Snelling, Falcons -- 16
24. Marion Barber, Cowboys -- 15
Here are the 20 best available free agents for 12-team, standard-scoring leagues:
1. QB Jason Campbell, Redskins
2. RB Ryan Moats, Texans
3. RB Justin Fargas, Raiders
4. RB Glen Coffee, 49ers
5. WR Devin Thomas, Redskins
6. WR Kenny Britt, Titans
7. RB Chris Jennings, Browns
8. WR Nate Burleson, Seahawks
9. TE Fred Davis, Redskins
10. TE Kevin Boss, Giants
11. RB Arian Foster, Texans
12. D/ST Seattle Seahawks
13. QB Chad Henne, Dolphins
14. RB Mike Hart, Colts
15. QB Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
16. RB Brandon Jackson, Packers
17. RB Jerious Norwood, Falcons
18. WR Josh Morgan, 49ers
19. RB Leonard Weaver, Eagles
20. RB Tashard Choice, Cowboys
We channeled the lovable eggheads at AccuScore to solve a mini-crisis around the SI.com office: Who are the best five fantasy WRs from this point forward? ... prompting these computer findings (as simulated one billion times -- or something like that):
1. Wes Welker, Patriots (26.58)
2. Andre Johnson, Texans (21.15)
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (18.74)
4. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (18.60)
5. Steve Smith, Giants (17.00)
1. Andre Johnson (285)
2. Larry Fitzgerald (280)
3. Wes Welker (278)
4. Brandon Marshall (223)
5. Vincent Jackson (215)
1. Larry Fitzgerald (2.79)
2. Randy Moss (2.11)
3. Andre Johnson (2.05)
4. Marques Colston (1.78)
5. Anquan Boldin (1.74)
For more amazing NFL-related information from Accuscore, simply click here or access the home page @ AccuScore ... and while you're there, check out The Dave Dameshek Show -- the only fantasy-related show in Podcastland that stars Gleek of Super Friends fame (he/she was the blue monkey that catered to the Wonder Twins' every whim.)
1. Ray Rice vs. Chicago
2. Matt Forte @ Baltimore
3. Fred Jackson vs. New England
4. Beanie Wells @ Detroit
5. Jamaal Charles vs. Cleveland
6. Thomas Jones vs. Atlanta
7. Frank Gore @ Philadelphia
8. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Green Bay
9. Steven Jackson vs. Houston
10. Chris Johnson vs. Miami
11. Knowshon Moreno vs. Oakland
12. Adrian Peterson @ Carolina
13. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Indianapolis
14. Cedric Benson @ San Diego
15. DeAngelo Williams vs. Minnesota
Anquan Boldin: Elsa/Getty Images
@B4him13 pleads: I need 2 WRs/1 TE/1 Flex from Sidney Rice, Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Laurence Maroney, Joseph Addai, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates. Thanks!
Answer: For starters, V-Jax and Boldin are solid locks at the receiver slots. Then, let's cozy up to Gates at tight end. And finally, I like Sidney over Calvin, Maroney and Addai by just a little bit at the flex spot. But in reality, you're probably staring at a coin flip between Rice and Addai -- especially if the Charlotte, N.C. weather is sketchy, at best. Good luck!
@thrasherrr says: Jay, please yell at me for starting Reggie Wayne over Brandon Marshall last week. Thanks.
Answer: Prior to Week 14, Wayne had seven touchdowns in his last five games against Denver ... so you absolutely HAD to start him, assuming full health. On the other hand, I should probably scold you for whomever started ahead of Marshall (NFL-record 21 catches, 200 yards, 2 TDs last week). Please tell me the other guy was a top-10 option, too -- otherwise, you missed out on perhaps the greatest fantasy performance by a wideout in 19-20 years (since Jerry Rice humbled Charles Dimry for five TDs in 1990).
@wildaces0217 asks: I need help, we start 2 RBs/2 WRs and one flex: Cedric Benson, Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Miles Austin ... who's the odd man out?
Answer: Hmmm ... let's ride Cedric/T.Jones at RB ... Fitz/Miles Austin at WR ... and Ricky (over Randy Moss) at the flex ... thx! No matter how you slice it, though, those players are all likely ripe for big numbers.
@justincrist1 wonders: So I have Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Smith (NYG). I'm thinking of starting Fitz/Bowe/Smith ... what do you think? Semis are this week! .
Answer: In a PPR, I'd go Fitz/Steve Smith (NYG) for Week 15 ... and with a standard-scoring league, I'm swinging for the fenches with Fitz/Bowe!
@octool poses these questions: Who's the best flex replacement for Kevin Smith? Joshua Cribbs, Rashad Jennings, Arian Foster, Maurice Morris, Darren McFadden or Justin Fargas? My playoffs are Weeks 15-16 ... thanks!
Answer: Let's try to not get ahead of ourselves too much and just focus on Week 15, OK? In place of K-Smith, let's ride 1)D-Mac 2)Fargas 3)Morris 4)Jennings 5)Foster and 6)Cribbs. Thanks!
It's foolish to guarantee 100 yards and/or one touchdown with tight ends, since their stats -- stars included -- tend to fluctuate wildly from week to week. Instead, here's our top 10 most productive tight ends for Week 15:
1. Jason Witten @ New Orleans
2. Heath Miller vs. Green Bay
3. Antonio Gates vs. Cincinnati
4. Fred Davis vs. N.Y. Giants
5. Kevin Boss @ Washington
6. Brent Celek vs. San Francisco
7. Todd Heap vs. Chicago
8. Vernon Davis @ Philadelphia
9. Tony Gonzalez @ N.Y. Jets
10. Dallas Clark @ Jacksonville
Mainstream fantasy sites, like SI.com, are obviously a hit with fantasygoers. But there's always room for alternative media in the marketplace, especially when the authors are hilariously shouting from the rooftops about how/why JaMarcus Russell could possibly double the output of Louis Murphy in receptions AND receiving yards on any given Sunday ... OR how the Buccaneers could possibly muster only 210 total yards in two home games with New York's Giants and Jets?
The first must-see blog is PigskinAddiction.com; and the site's signature page involves Snake's Takes (running every Tuesday) -- comprising a collection of unfiltered thoughts so random, so emotional, so bitter, so twisted ... you'll wonder how the man even survives an NFL Sunday, let alone write about it come Monday.
Next up ... Fantasy Football Toolbox. If you're looking for updated depth charts, weekly cheat sheets, injury reports and even -- sacre bleu! -- an updated listing of the NFL's Top 10 punters (insert joke here) ... then welcome home!
There's even a weekly podcast during the season -- although the Clemons/Ritter podcast offers more hard-hitting fantasy analysis and abject mocking of one another's lineup decisions.
1. Anquan Boldin @ Detroit
2. Marques Colston vs. Dallas
3. Miles Austin @ New Orleans
4. Derrick Mason vs. Chicago
5. Wes Welker @ Buffalo
6. Mohamed Massaquoi @ Kansas City
7. Michael Crabtree @ Philadelphia
8. DeSean Jackson vs. San Francisco
9. Andre Johnson @ St. Louis
10. Brandon Marshall vs. Oakland
11. Reggie Wayne @ Jacksonville
10. Sidney Rice @ Carolina
11. Nate Burleson vs. Tampa Bay
In terms of fantasy football, we couldn't have asked for a better 10-year run with wide receivers -- from Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss to Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, perhaps now would be the perfect time to put the decade in better perspective ... while listing the Best Single Seasons of Fantasy WRs from 2000-2009:
1. Randy Moss, Patriots -- 98 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, 23 TDs (2007)
2. Marvin Harrison, Colts -- 143 catches, 1,772 receiving yads, 11 TDs (2002)
3. Randy Moss, Vikings -- 111 catches, 1,632 receiving yards, 16 TDs (2003)
4. Marvin Harrison, Colts -- 109 catches, 1,524 receiving yads, 15 TDs (2001)
5. Steve Smith, Panthers -- 103 catches, 1,563 receiving yards, 12 TDs (2007)
6. Marvin Harrison, Colts -- 102 catches, 1,413 receiving yads, 14 TDs (2000)
7. Terrell Owens, 49ers -- 93 catches, 1,412 receiving yards, 16 TDs (2001)
8. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers -- 93 catches, 1,405 receiving yads, 16 TDs (2004)
9. Reggie Wayne, Colts -- 104 catches, 1,510 receiving yards, 10 TDs (2007)
10. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- 103 catches, 1,450 receiving yads, 10 TDs (2005)
11. Randy Moss, Vikings -- 77 catches, 1,437 receiving yards, 15 TDs (2000)
12. Braylon Edwards, Browns -- 80 catches, 1,289 receiving yads, 16 TDs (2007)
In case you're scoring at home, here's my perfect lineup for Week 15:
QB Drew Brees
RB Chris Johnson
RB Jamaal Charles
WR Derrick Mason
WR Marques Colston
RB/WR Maurice Jones-Drew
TE Jason Witten
PK Nate Kaeding
D/ST Houston Texans (simply follow the strench-trail that is the Lions, Browns, Chiefs, Bucs or -- in this case -- Rams)
The stupidest phone call I've ever received, bar none, occurred back in 2000. On a warm, summer Saturday morning while living in Michigan, one of my best friends, Ryan O'Donnell, who had presumably been drinking while playing golf with his boys, called to settle a random (and completely pointless) bet: Could I whistle the theme song to the TV show Benson, starring Robert Guillaume? (Ryan had $50 riding on it, I believe.) Now, for those who know me, I pretty much live for all things TV and trivia -- which explains my childhood dream of becoming a contestant on NBC's Sale Of The Century (never realized) -- but you wouldn't believe how mad I was at Ryan for calling really, really early that morning, and perhaps worse, not inviting me to play golf. In fact, it was one of the few times I ever threatnened to disown him as a friend, while also cutting him out of the loop from my spectacularly bad (read: hilarious) blind-dating stories of my 20s. I may have even promised to cease all discussions of Notre Dame football -- his greatest sporting passion.
What's my point to this? I have none, really, except to say that Ryan died of complications from Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) one year ago tomorrow ... and that I would pay any price in this world -- like unwisely consuming an entire Mountain Dew "Big Slam" again in under 90 seconds (amid Ryan's badgering) -- to field just one more stupid call from him ... in hopes of settling one more ludicrous bet.
If so, maybe I would stop tearing up at the site of Harry Oliver nailing a 50-yard field goal to help the Irish beat Michigan (my beloved school as a child) in 1980 ... or stop talking to the sky when driving on the freeway at night ... or stop trying to whistle that damn song from Benson.