ADAM DUERSON MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
This is an article from the Nov. 20, 2006 issue
They're nothing alike in terms of size or comportment, but they're similar in terms of production; since being drafted in 1996, each has averaged a touchdown catch every 1.4 games. Who's the better pick this week?
Normally all business, the 6-foot, 185-pound Harrison put on an outlandish display of his own in Week 9--he spiked a ball in the end zone (earning a 15-yard penalty). O.K., that's not exactly T.O. territory, but this is: Harrison has scored five TDs in his last five games, and the last time he faced Dallas, in 2002, he caught 14 balls for 138 yards and two TDs.
The 6'3", 224-pound Owens is known for his histrionics, the most recent being an end-zone catnap in Week 9. More important from a fantasy perspective, however, is that Owens is poised to stage further theatrics: He has scored six TDs in his last five games, and the last time he faced Indianapolis, in 2001, he caught six passes for 103 yards and a score.
THE VERDICT The edge depends on which wideout's sidekick will siphon off more receptions. Indy's Reggie Wayne is on the best four-game tear of his career (392 yards, five TDs); Dallas's Terry Glenn, hobbled by a knee injury, hasn't yet clicked with new QB Tony Romo. So get ready for more of T.O.'s end-zone antics.
JEFFRI CHADIHA THE INSIDE MAN
Is a three-touchdown day a sign of good things to come for a beleaguered Ben Roethlisberger?
NOW THAT we're past the midway point of this fantasy season, it's time to look for the players who will help you make a playoff run and identify the ones who will hurt your chances. In the case of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, there's still hope, especially after his three-touchdown day against the Saints on Sunday. The key is whether the 24-year-old QB can stop making the backbreaking mistakes that have led to a league-high 14 interceptions. "Ben has to stop thinking he can make the same plays he made last year," one league source told me. "Teams aren't going to let him run around and improvise, but he still believes he can do that. Sometimes a quarterback just has to take what a defense gives him."
Roethlisberger's play has been so horrendous at times that it's easy to forget how productive he can be. He had another three-touchdown day against the Falcons in Week 7 and a two-TD game against the Chiefs the week before, without an interception in either game. The challenge, however, is figuring out whether he'll remain effective. Even though the Steelers are throwing enough to satisfy any fantasy owner--they're passing 56.9% of the time, up from 42.8% last season--Roethlisberger has been a feast-or-famine player. My bet is that he has turned the corner: As long as he stays healthy, his decision making should improve, as should his value.
SILVER AND BLACKED OUT Raiders running back LaMont Jordan offers far less promise for the second half. Jordan had great fantasy appeal as a featured back heading into the season, but he has rushed for only 410 yards and has already started to lose carries to backup Justin Fargas. Though the Raiders claim that this isn't the start of a trend--"[Fargas] is just a change-of-pace back," one team source says--the reality is that Jordan is mired in a lousy offense. Now that his touches are decreasing, there's no reason to think that Jordan will provide significant production down the stretch.
NO PASSING FANCY One surprise in the season's first half has been the emergence of running back Steven Jackson in the Rams' passing game. As quarterback Marc Bulger has cut down on the kind of risky, downfield throws that can lead to interceptions, the check-down has become a bigger part of the St. Louis offense. Jackson already has a career-high 47 receptions, and he has generated 1,236 yards from scrimmage. There's no reason to believe he won't continue that type of production in the second half. "I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be among the top running backs," Jackson says. "I work on my all-around game, and hopefully it shows up on Sunday."
BURRESS UNDER DURESS Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress has five touchdown catches and, at 6'5", a proven ability to outleap smaller defenders in the end zone for fade passes from quarterback Eli Manning, but the going figures to get tougher for Burress now that running mate Amani Toomer is out for the season with a partial tear in his left ACL. Burress was on a similar roll last season, but defenses stepped up their coverage of him in the second half and he slumped badly. He also missed the Giants' Week 9 win over the Texans with back spasms, and fantasy owners should be warned that those spasms could recur at any time.
PETER KING I THINK ...
... you absolutely, positively should not give up on Rex Grossman
QUARTERBACK PRODUCTION is tough to predict. Who would have thought during the preseason that fans of a playoff contender would be rabidly screaming to keep Damon Huard as their team's starter? Or that Jon Kitna and Drew Brees would be ahead of Carson Palmer and Tom Brady in passing yardage through 10 weeks?
When it comes to quarterbacks, though, no one has been harder to figure out this season than Rex Grossman of the Bears, with whom I visited last week. After a strong 5--0 start, he had lousy games against the Cardinals and the Dolphins (throwing a combined seven interceptions), and his passer rating plunged to the middle of the pack. In Chicago there were cries for the Bears either to pull Grossman in favor of Brian Griese or to have Grossman play it much safer. With such a strong defense, the critics said, all Grossman has to do on offense is play not to lose.
Playing not to lose is a tricky thing, however. "You can't tell a quarterback not to take any chances out there," Bears coach Lovie Smith told me. "The quarterback just has to know which chances are the right ones."
"I have never played not to lose," Grossman said, saying the words with a pinch of disdain. "I don't know how to play that way."
He has to play smarter, to be sure, but a quarterback can't be afraid to make a mistake. When my conversation with Grossman ended, I left with the impression that he'd play smarter in the second half of the season but that he'd still have some Sonny Jurgensen in him, that little gambling streak that the good ones have, which is how they make the big plays.
Grossman, by the way, is still on pace for a 3,724-yard, 30-touchdown season after his 246-yard, three-TD effort against the Giants on Sunday night. Last year Peyton Manning threw for 23 more yards than that and two fewer TDs. And on Sunday night against the Giants, Grossman started just the 16th regular-season game of his career. Don't forget, he's just a kid at 26. Sometimes young quarterbacks throw interceptions. Live with them. Grossman will reward you down the stretch: In the last five weeks of the season the Bears face only one top 15 defense.
DAVID SABINO MARKET WATCH
Ladell Betts RB
He'll see his value rise with each game that a broken hand forces starter Clinton Portis to sit.
Reche Caldwell WR
The tortuous quest to find a replacement for Deion Branch appears to be nearing a close after Caldwell's nine-catch, 90-yard, one-TD effort.
Maurice Jones-Drew RB
The goal line back (and team TD leader with six) also has 585 yards from scrimmage.
The suddenly formidable Fins held Larry Johnson to 89 total yards a week after forcing six turnovers in an upset of the Bears.
David Garrard QB
A no-TD, four-interception effort in a loss to the Texans makes the choice between him and Byron Leftwich look a whole lot easier.
Laurence Maroney RB PATRIOTS After a promising start, the rookie has just 201 rushing yards and no TDs in his last five games.
Mike Bell RB
When you see a player on the inactive list and he's not injured, it's time to panic.
L.J. Smith TE
He had multiple catches in his first seven games; he has a total of two for 19 yards in his last two games.
Read Peter King's 10 Fantasy Things I Think I Think and analysis from David Sabino at SI.com/fantasy.