Thursday, December 30, 2004

AFC EAST KEEPERS FOR '05

Saturday, January 2nd 2005:
AFC EAST KEEPERS FOR 2005

And so the 2004 NFL regular season draws to a close this weekend, and with it the hopes and dreams of so many team owners whose season's seemed so very bright in, oh... September... October, and even up until last weekend. But for those of you who participate in "Keeper Leagues" one task still remains; selecting those players who will return to your roster for the 2005 season. Keeper leagues are not limited to fantasy Football of course. Keeper Baseball and Basketball leagues abound and if you don't, or haven't, participated in such a league give it a shot! The "keeper" aspect of fantasy gaming provides for an additional layer of strategy and adds another dimension to the game. And after expending (in many cases) a ridiculous amount of time, research, and energy into the construction of your fantasy team through the draft, waiver wire moves and trades, it's a tremendous asset to be able to retain your franchise's key players. Predicated upon your league and it's rules the number of athletes you are able to retain from one season to the next varies. Most of the Keeper leagues I have
participated in provide each owner with three "Keeper" slots. And for the purposes of this article, player rankings will be based upon that number.
Numerous factors should be taken into account prior to affording an athlete keeper status; is the athlete eligible to file for Free Agency? What do the athlete's team's prospects look like for the upcoming season? Are younger players pressing for playing time at his position? What's the team's depth like at that position? Is your "star" player aging and worth retaining? Does the team's offensive philosophy and talent, or lack thereof, hinder or boost your player's production? And the considerations go on and on. So as you can see there are myriad factors that should be weighed and snap, or misinformed decisions will hinder the development of your dynasty!
Let's examine a few scenarios that might affect how and who you select as keepers for the 2005 season.Things look mighty bleak for the 49'ers forseeable future. Head coach Dennis Erickson has led this formerly proud team to a grand total of 7 wins after 2 seasons and almost certainly will be shown the door. And, after interviewing for the Ole' Miss' head coaching position, how can the guy be brought back anyway? The 49'er offensive line is absolutely abyssmal and RB Kevan Barlow has displayed a whole lotta' nothing after inking a big money deal to be the team's feature 'Back. The team's prospects probably won't brighten until the 2006 season at the earliest and given the lack of stability and talent on the team... no 49'er is worth keeping. Another example; RBs Shaun Alexander, Travis Henry and Edgerrin James are all eligible to file for Free Agency. Henry, who has proven himself to be a physical and relatively durable 'Back, will certainly re-sign elsewhere as the Bills have their leading man in 2nd year pro Willis McGahee. If Henry should sign with the Miami Dolphins who need a feature running back as badly as a fish needs water, will he be as productive with the 'Phins as he was with the Bills? Colt ownership has expressed a determination to keeping "The Triplets" intact and retaining Edge', even if they have to slap the "Franchise" tag on him. Will the Colts be able to give James the kind of money he will command (entering week 17 James is a handful of yards behind the league's rushing leader, Seahawk Shaun Alexander) after re-signing WR Marvin Harrison to a big deal and having given QB Peyton Manning a king's ransom before that? And as a running back entering his 7th year in the league is it even wise for the Colts (or you for that matter) to sign James to the long term contract he will undoubtedly demand? Seahawk QB Matt Hasselback is also eligible for Free Agency, will RB Shaun Alexander be the 'Hawks first or second priority? If the Seahawks should unwisely decide that it's financially impossible to bring Alexander back, will he be as productive elsewhere? The Lions have stud players in rookies RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams, and allegedly another in 3rd year man to be, WR Charles Rogers. However, what do the Lions have in QB Joey Harrington? Until recently the Lions have not surrounded the erratic signal caller with much talent, so the hopes for that team and it's skill position players ride upon his development. Do you anticipate that by having an improved O-line in front of him, and tremendously talented athletes alongside him, Harrington will indeed step up as a professional Quarterback in 2005 and thereby make both Jones and Williams worthwhile
Keepers? And lastly, "round and round she goes, on which running back they'll stop... no one knows!" So goes the game of "running back roulette!" Who will be the Bronco feature 'Back in '05; Tatum Bell or Reuben Droughns? Who's it going to be in Minnesota, Onterrio Smith or Michael Bennett? That's a lot to consider! So, let's undertake a divisional, team-by-team analysis. Athletes will be assessed on a sliding scale; from 4 stars being a no-brainer keeper to 1 star indicating a marginal player who will probably even be available via the Waiver Wire after your league's draft.
(Statistics are accurate through week 16)

AFC EAST:

New England Patriots: This team has not only kept itself above water, having overcome more adversity and injuries than you can shake a stick at, they've thrived. This season has been a real testament to the team's coaching staff and the player's intestinal fortitude. Concerns that former Bengal malcontent and new Patriot RB Corey Dillon would be a "locker room
cancer" were proven to be groundless. According to teammates Dillon has brought a measure of toughness and even leadership to the team this season. Meanwhile, QB Tom Brady remains as unflappable in the pocket as ever, capably distributing the ball to everyone except the Beer Vendors in the stands.

QB Tom Brady 3 STARS; 3,466 yards, 26 TDs, 13 INTs. Brady remains a tier below Manning and Culpepper. This season there was but one game wherein Brady did not throw at least 1 TD pass and he really had only one poor game; against the Miami Dolphins and their skilled secondary who've a reputation for making QBs look bad. Nevertheless, owners can expect Brady to improve next season with a full contingent of healthy wide receivers.

RB Corey Dillon 4 STARS; 1,366 yards, 12 TDs (inc. 1 receiving). Money 'Backs like Dillon are not easy to come by. Dillon's value even increases as the season drags into winter when the Patriots like to run the ball more at opponents. Who wants to try and hit a bull like Dillon when he's got a full head of steam going and it's 10 degrees outside? Dillon's numbers should
improve a bit next season as he'll have had a full year to acclimate to his new team, it's environs and playbook.

TE Daniel Graham 1 1/2 STARS; 30 receptions, 364 yards, 7 TDs. In this, the year of the tight end, Graham has been one of the more productive ones. Nevertheless, unless your current team is really shallow, TEs capable of contributing are always available through the draft and even Waiver Wire.

WR David Patten 2 STARS; 43 receptions, 777 yards, 7 TDs. Due to the way Brady distributes the ball, Patten's really the only Patriot wideout worth considering as a keeper.

Miami Dolphins: This team's season really ended before week 1. The hopes that running back Ricky Williams would carry this team deep into the playoffs turned out to be nothing more than a "pipe-dream" after he retired and wandered off into Australia's hinterlands. Couple that shocker with Dan Marino holding the position of "Head of Football Operations" for about...72 hours and former head coach Dave Wannstedt's poor decision making, and what you have is a recipe for a league laughingstock. Which is precisely what this franchise has deteriorated into. It will be some time before this team gets it's act together. The Dolphins need to decide upon their quarterback of the future and find a feature running back who, more than likely, will arrive in the form of a trade or free agent signing. Rumors of the team's interest in bringing Colt RB Edgerrin James back to Florida have been swirling for some time now, but it would be a surprise if the Colts let James go. The only Dolphins worth keeping are marginal at best; WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael. Both qualify as 2 STAR keepers. Current
quarterback A.J Feeley has some tools and has displayed admirable toughness, but he makes poor decisions and almost certainly will be available through the Waiver Wire...unless you're part of a VERY deep league.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are another team that has demonstrated great moxie and grit this season. With Travis Henry as the team's lead running back the Bills started the season in less than impressive fashion. When Henry went down with an ankle injury and Willis McGahee was inserted into the lineup however, the team won 5 of it's next 7 games and hasn't looked
back since. QB Drew Bledsoe has been a more confident signal caller than he was earlier in the season, and both RB Willis McGahee and emerging rookie WR Lee Evans have quite a bit to do with his, and the team's, impressive turnaround. This is a franchise that NO one wants to face!

QB Drew Blesoe 1 STAR; 2,743 yards, 20 TDs, 15 INTs. Although he has looked better in recent weeks, Bledsoe is clearly deep into the twilight of his career. In fact, chances are quite good that had rookie QB J.P Losman not gone down with a leg injury Bledsoe would be the one currently wearing a cap and clutching a clipboard on the sideline. How soon Losman will assume
the Bill QB position is unclear, but what is clear is that Bledsoe is simply not worth retaining. He's another QB that should be available through your draft or even Waiver Wire... again, unless you're in a very deep league.

RB Travis Henry 2 1/2 STARS; 94 carries for 326 yards, 0 TDs. I just couldn't pull the 3 STAR trigger on Henry. I like him as a 'Back, he helped run my 2003 fantasy team to a Championship. But Henry has been banged up and inconsistent this season. He had 0 TDs and 0 100 yards games through week 9! Now, that inconsistency could be attributable to former 1st round pick
Willis McGahee vying for the feature 'Back role and breathing down his neck for the position, but I would've liked to see Henry rise to the challenge. A tough 'back who plays with pain and through injury, Henry will be some team's lead RB next season. His value however, will be contingent upon where he lands.

RB Willis McGahee 4 STARS; 1049 yards, 11 TDs. Writers and fans nation-wide were calling the draft day selection of the injured McGahee everything from "arrogant" to "downright stupid." And, with a proven 1,000 yard+ running back on the roster in Travis Henry, it was easy to understand such a reaction. Since week 6 of this season however, the drafting of
McGahee has looked far more like a stroke of genius and move of great foresight than anything else. This season has seen McGahee rush for over 100 yards in 10 games. In addition, McGahee's altered his running style. Whereas before he was strictly a speedy and elusive 'Back, McGahee can now take it between the Tackles and is as capable of running over a defender as he is around him. McGahee can be the kind of RB you craft your draft around. Just keep an eye on what happens at the QB position. If by some chance the Bills should decide to go with Losman as their starter next season McGahee's value
will diminish a bit, opponents will try and bottle him up and dare the young QB to beat them.

WR Eric Moulds 2 1/2 STARS; 84 receptions, 1006 yards, 5 TDs. Moulds is still a productive receiver and will be again next season. However, fellow WR and rookie Lee Evans has quietly replaced Moulds as the true go-to TD man. Moulds will be a fine # 2 or 3 receiver next season, but his, as every skill position player's value does, will ride upon the shoulders of next
season's starting QB.

WR Lee Evans 3 STARS; 46 receptions, 780 yards, 9 TDs. The Bills have been looking for a wideout capable of stretching the field and starting opposite rock-steady Eric Moulds for several drafts now. This year the Bills finally struck gold. Over the course of the past 4 games Evans has hauled in 7 TDs. Evans, RB Willis McGahee, and a rejuvenated and stingy defense are
attributable for the Bills' being able to rise from their early season ashes. Lee Evans should be capable of being a #1 receiver next season...again, contingent upon who's under Center. Nevertheless, unless your team is positively loaded with true #1 players, Evans is absolutely worthy of a keeper slot.

New York Jets:
It's been an up and down season for the Jets who boast a 10-5 record and still harbor playoff hopes. The coaching staff has been criticized for being too conservative, almost as if they try to avoid losing games as opposed to winning them. In particular, Offensive Coordinator Paul Hackett has been under fire and calls for his head continue. Chad Pennington has also been the recipient of criticism; "his arm is too weak," "he's a product of the West Coast offense," etc. One thing is certain however, RB Curtis Martin's greatness. "CM" is arguably enjoying the best season of his career and has cemented a place for himself in Canton.

QB Chad Pennington 2 STARS, 3 STARS if you're in a Deeper League; 2,492 yards, 15 TD, 9 INTs. Depending upon the talent on your team, Pennington is certainly worth retaining. Next season, with a healthy shoulder and talented WRs Moss and McCareins at his disposal, Pennington should be able to return to Pro-Bowl form and post the numbers that were expected of him.

RB Curtis Martin 3 1/2 STARS; 1,544 yards, 14 TDs (2 receiving), 223 yards receiving. A stud running back is a fantasy team's strongest and most critical asset. And accordingly, Curtis Martin's been one of the league's most consistent and productive feature 'Backs. A warrior who was hobbled for most of the '03 season playing on 2 badly sprained ankles, Martin is on pace
for 350+ totes and has an outside shot of hitting 1800 combined yards this year. Although Martin is at an age where many 'Backs begin to slow down, CM's shown no signs of doing so. In fact the Jets are prepared to part ways with Martin's backup, Lamont Jordan, who's displayed the capability and desire to be a feature running back elsewhere. Curtis Martin is a must-keep player and will serve as a #1-2 fantasy 'Back in '05.

RB Lamont Jordan 1 STAR; 456 yards, 2 TDs, 111 yards receiving. Averaging a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry, Jordan is a big 'Back and impressive blend of power, speed and wiggle. He has virtually zero value as a Jet, but Jordan will be a Free Agent this summer and has vowed to leave New York in search of a starting job. Jordan is very capable of assuming the lead 'Back role
and has acquitted himself quite nicely when given the opportunity to play. He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, pick up the blitz, and with so many teams in need of a running back... Jordan should find a new home with no trouble at all. Lamont Jordan is a true sleeper pick and while he's really not worth using a keeper slot on...just make sure that you don't
overlook him during next season's draft!

WR Santana Moss 3 STARS; 41 receptions, 810 yards, 5 TDs. Moss hasn't been as explosive a playmaker this season as he was last season. Nonetheless, Moss is averaging a hair under 20 yards per reception and possesses the ability to break open a game on virtually any play with his quick-as-a-blink speed. Look for Moss and the Jet receiving game to post much better numbers next season.

WR Justin McCareins 2 STARS; 50 receptions, 708 yards, 4 TDs. One of the reasons McCareins was brought to the Jets was to serve as a red-zone receiving threat. Towards that end he's come up a bit short. As should Moss, look for McCareins to rebound and have a much better season with the J-E-T-S Jets in '05.

Tomorrow, the AFC West Divvy’ will be broken down team-by-team. Happy, Healthy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

FANTASY FOOTBALL KEEPERS & WEEK 16 STARTERS

NFL KEEPERS AND THROWBACKS FOR THE 2005 NFL SEASON:

And so the 2004 NFL regular season draws to a close, and with it go the hopes and dreams of all those team owners whose season's seemed so very bright in, oh... September... October, and even up until last weekend. But for those of you who participate in "Keeper Leagues," one task still remains; selecting those players who will return to your roster for the 2005 season. Keeper leagues are not limited to fantasy Football of course, Keeper Baseball and Basketball leagues abound and if you don't, or haven't, participated in such a league give it a shot! The "keeper" aspect of fantasy gaming provides for an additional layer of strategy and adds another dimension to the game. And after expending (in many cases) a ridiculous amount of time, research, and energy into the construction of your fantasy team through the draft, waiver wire moves and trades, it's a tremendous asset to be able to retain your franchise's key players. Predicated upon your league and it's rules, the number of athletes you are able to retain for the next season varies. Most of the Keeper leagues I have participated in provide each owner with three "Keeper" slots and for the purposes of this article, player rankings will be based upon that number. Numerous factors should be taken into account prior to making your keeper selection; is the athlete eligible to file for Free Agency? What do the athlete's team's prospects look like for the upcoming season? Are younger players pressing for playing time at his position? What's the team's depth like at that position? Is your "star" player aging and worth retaining? Does the team's offensive philosophy and talent, or lack thereof, hinder or boost your player's production? And the considerations go on and on. So as you can see, there are myriad factors that should be weighed, and snap or misinformed decisions will prevent or hinder the development of your dynasty! Let's examine a few scenarios that might affect how, and who, you select as keepers. Things look mighty bleak for the 49'ers forseeable future. Head coach Dennis Erickson has led this formerly proud team to a grand total of 7 wins after 2 seasons and almost certainly will be shown the door. And after interviewing for the Ole' Miss' head coaching position how can the guy be brought back anyway? The 49'er offensive line is absolutely abyssmal, and RB Kevan Barlow has displayed a whole lotta' nothing after inking a big money deal to be the team's feature 'Back. The team's prospects probably won't brighten until the 2006 season at the earliest, and given the lack of stability and talent on that team no 49'er is worth keeping. Another example; RBs Shaun Alexander, Travis Henry and Edgerrin James are all eligible to file for Free Agency. Henry, who has proven himself to be a physical and durable 'Back, will certainly re-sign elsewhere as the Bills have their leading man in 2nd year pro Willis McGahee. If Henry should sign with the Miami Dolphins who need a feature 'Back as badly as a fish needs water, will he be as productive with the 'Phins as he was with the Bills? Colt ownership has expressed a determination to keeping "The Triplets" intact and retaining Edge' even if they have to slap the "Franchise" tag on him. Will the Colts actually be able to give James the kind of money he will command (entering week 17 James is a mere handful of yards behind the league's rushing leader, Seahawk Shaun Alexander) after re-signing WR Marvin Harrison to a big deal and having given QB Peyton Manning a king's ransom before that? As a running back entering his 7th year in the league is it even wise for the Colts (or you for that matter) to sign James to the long term contract he will undoubtedly demand? Seahawk QB Matt Hasselback is also eligible for Free Agency, will Shaun Alexander be the 'Hawks first or second priority? If the Seahawks should unwisely decide that it's financially unfeasible to bring Alexander back, will be as productive elsewhere? The Lions have stud players in rookies RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams and allegedly another in 3rd year man to be, WR Charles Rogers. However, what do the Lions have in QB Joey Harrington? Until recently the Lions have not surrounded the erratic signal caller with much talent, so the hopes for that team and it's skill position players ride upon his development. Do you anticipate that by having an improved O-line in front of him and tremendously talented athletes alongside him Harrington will indeed step up as a professional Quarterback in 2005, thereby making both Kevin Jones and Roy Williams worthwhile Keepers? And lastly, "round and round she goes and on which running back they'll stop... no one knows!" So goes the game of Bronco and Viking running back roulette! Tatum Bell or Reuben Droughns, Onterrio Smith or Michael Bennett? That's a lot to consider! So, let's undertake a divisional, team-by-team analysis. The AFC East analysis will be posted by tomorrow, the other divisions will be posted on a week-by-week basis.

Below, is an article that was published last week. While I swung and missed on Curtis Martin being a "Sleeper 'Back" for week 16 lol... I was right on with 90% of my selections...and that ain't too shabby.


"STARTERS AND BENCHWARMERS WEEK 16":
By Jamey Feuer
jamey.feuer@verizon.net
Week 15 concluded with the interesting phenomena of league-wide parity reared it's head. I won't speculate now as to whether or not I think parity is a good thing, but it has made for some very disappointing team and player performances and presents difficult personnel decisions for we fantasy football fans. How so you ask? Well, the New Orleans Saints are doing their best schizophrenic "Sybil" impersonation. Flat as a pancake one week, they're capable of showing true grit the next as they did against the Cowboys and Buccaneers the past two weeks respectively. The team and their enigmatic QB Aaron Brooks, are difficult to anticipate and which Saint QB and which Saint team take the field seem to vary from week to week. Although he possesses tremendous physical gifts and is a physical specimen, Brooks still makes bizarre decisions and myriad mental mistakes, tries to force passes into postage stamp size openings and simply hasn't been able to put it all together for an entire season. This past week, a previously porous Saint D which saw Panther 5th string 'Back Nick Goings and Cowboy rookie RB Julius Jones tally a combined 260 yards and 2 TDs on 59 totes, allowed Buccaneer RB Michael Pittman the 130 yards rushing that I anticipated but kept him out of the end zone. Those pesky Saints! And on the opposite side of the field the Buccaneer D was stout against RB Deuce McAllister (89 yards 0 TDs) and the run but the secondary was not, permitting both WRs Joe Horn and the talented but equally enigmatic Donte Stallworth to find the end zone. Furthermore, the unpredictable Saint D held resurgent Buc' QB Brian Griese to 1 TD, picked him off once, and prevented him from exceeding 190 yards passing. And lastly, how about the Green Bay Packers last week? Playing at home, with a playoff berth on the line, on a truly frigid Lambeau Field (I'd predicted a temperature of 1 degree. In actuality with wind chill, the temp dropped below zero during the game), against a Jacksonville Jaguar team that as a rule plays poorly in such polar climes, a fired up Favre and company came up as short as the thermometer's mercury. The Packer D allowed RB Fred Taylor to tear off huge chunks of yardage and run virtually at will, while WR Jimmy Smith (one of my Week 15 "Must Start WRs") hauled in 2 big TDs. The Jag' D disregarded the cold and with an impressive gut-check, kept their post-season hopes alive while hindering Green Bay's. The Jaguars pressured Favre all day, sacking him 3 times while forcing 3 picks and a fumble. Likewise, the Jag' D played "Scrooge" to 'Pack 'Back Ahman Green, forcing him to cough the ball up twice while holding him to under 100 yards and 0 TDs. This week is the final round of playoffs for virtually all leagues. Therefore, each and every decision is crucial for those owners still vying for their league's title, prizes and bragging rights, and now is certainly NOT the time to tinker or experiment. As the old expression goes; "you go with the horse(s) that brung ya'.

"MUST START QUARTER BACKS WEEK 16":
Daunte Culpepper at Home against Packers: Culpepper has matured considerably this season as both QB and leader. He takes what opposing defenses are willing to give him, resists the temptation to force his passes and has cut down considerably on his turnovers, particularly fumbles. In addition, C-Pepp's gotten much better at progressing through his reads and is as comfortable throwing the ball to WR Nate Burleson and TE Jermaine Wiggins as he is to the again healthy game-breaker, Randy Moss. Surrounded by a healthy offense, playing smart Football and determined to avoid a repeat of last season's heart-breaking collapse (it was heart-breaking for we Viking fans!), against a Packer team that was embarrassed at Lambeau by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Culpepper should be good for 265 yards and 3 TDs.
Trent Green at Home against Raiders: Over the course of the past 3 games Green's posted 808 yards, 9 TDs and 2 INTs. The Chiefs week 13 game against this Raider team saw Green throw for 340 yards, 3 TDs and 1 pick. With Green on such a roll and well acquainted with the opposition, a line of 290 yards and another 3 TDs should be about right. If this Chief team could field any kind of D... they'd be unstoppable!
Billy Volek at Home against Broncos: All Volek has done in QB Steve McNair's absence is step up big time. Having spurned off-season starting job offers in order to return to a situation and offense he feels at home in, Volek has provided the Titans with a spark that unfortunately, the depleted defense cannot match. Over the course of the past 4 games Volek has thrown for an eye-popping 1,521 yards, 14 TDs and a mere 4 INTs. Plug those numbers into a regular 16 game season and you get a preposterous 6,100 yards and 56 TDs! With WRs Desmond Mason the model of consistency on one side, and Drew Bennett who's positively blown up in recent weeks on the other, Volek could easily go for another 275 yards and 3 TDs at home.
Kerry Collins at Chiefs: My week 15 "Sleeper QB," Collins had a monstrous 5 TD/1 INT day against a Titan team that was missing much of it's secondary Sunday. This week, Collins faces yet another defense and secondary that has become accustomed to surrendering swaths of yards and dozens of points. Against this Chief team a line of 300 yards and 3 TDs would not be an outrageous prediction for a QB that stretches the field as capably as Collins and his receivers do.

"SLEEPER QB WEEK 16":
Jake Plummer at Titans: The past 4 games haven't been particluarly good ones for Bronco QB Jake "The Snake" Plummer. And, having tossed 9 picks to a mere 2 TDs over that span, patience with the streaky QB is quite understandably running thinner than the mile-high air. This week however, everyone's offensive punching bag is on the Bronco docket; the defensively challenged Tennessee Titans who, during the same 4 game span, are allowing opponents to score a hair under 40 points per game. If the Broncos can straighten out the roller-coaster that is their running game, Plummer may be able to get his game going this week against the Titan's terribly depleted and easily defeated secondary; 250 yards and 3 TDs.

"QUARTERBACKS WHO SHOULD BE BENCHED WEEK 16":
Kyle Boller at Steelers: Although Boller has made progress and has quieted his detractors, the Raven offense still revolves around the run and relies upon it's defense to keep it in games. Expect the Steelers to blitz the young QB early and often, preventing him from establishing a rythm. In addition, TE Todd Heap can't do it by himself and the Ravens need more production from WRs Travis Taylor and the imressive but very raw rookie, Clarence Moore.
David Carr at Jaguars: A Jag' defense that frustrated Brett Favre by intercepting him 3 times, sacking him 3 times, forcing him to fumble once and effectively shutting down the 'Pack in the brutal cold at Lambeau last week, should be capable of doing the same to Carr and company this week.
Ben Roethlisberger at Home against Ravens: The Ravens came as close to shutting down "The Peyton Manning Show" as any team possibly could last week, holding him to the very human numbers of 249 yards and 1 TD. The last time the Ravens and Steelers faced off was week 2, it was coincidentally enough Big Ben's first game as a pro, and he threw for 179 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Having had ample time to prepare for Roethlisberger, expect Raven Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn to bring the blitz from every point on the compass and mix up defensive looks in order to confuse Roethlisberger. There's a great deal riding on the outcome of this game and more than likely, the Ravens will see a steady diet of RB Jerome Bettis.

"MUST START RUNNING BACKS WEEK 16":
Ahman Green at Vikings: Green has had an irritating habit of fumbling at inopportune times. That aside, he's still a top 'Back and is a determined runner who can be difficult to bring down. Last week, the Vikings as they have had each week, had a hard time containing the run and Lion RB Kevin Jones. If the Lions had a QB capable of instilling confidence and winning a big game they probably would have won last week's tilt against a Viking team that is playing poor Football and is backing into a playoff berth. With the Packers still in the playoff hunt and Green's fumble contributing to Sunday's Packer loss, look for the big 'Back to try and redeem himself with a productive game against an arch-rival; 110 yards 2 TDs.
Larry Johnson at Home against Raiders: Penn State product Larry Johnson hopped out of his diapers, spat out the pacifier and finally went to work week 12. Having looked much like a bust (frightening visions of Ron Dayne danced through Chief's fans heads) up until mid-season, LJ is now displaying the speed and elusiveness that he showed in college and is at long last justifying his 1st round pick status and quite possibly, cementing himself as Priest Holmes' successor. The passing of the Chief's feature 'Back torch however, more than likely will not occur until the '06 season at the earliest. The Raiders have not displayed the ability to stop the run, as Falcon RBs Warrick Dunn and T.J Duckett capably illustrated week 14 by gutting the Raiders for a combined 168 rushing yards and 4 TDs. This week, look for Larry Johnson to notch 115 yards and 2 TDs.
Tiki Barber at Bengals: A Bengal team that prior to last Sunday's game against the Bills was allowing opponents 140+ rushing yards per game has another tough match-up this week, the NY Giants and versatile RB Tiki Barber are coming to town! Tiki has been the unquestioned Giant team MVP, is headed to his first Pro-Bowl, and though it appeared as if he might have been wearing down the past few games, he acquitted himself quite nicely against a tough Steeler D last Sunday racking up 114 total yards and 1 TD. Rookie Giant QB Eli Manning threw the ball with more confidence and accuracy and provided Tiki with some room to operate. If the young "Man-ning" can build upon last week's performance and is able to mount an effective aerial campaign again this week, Tiki should eclipse 100 yards and score once or twice on a Bengal D that remains... toothless.
Kevin Jones at Home against Bears: Make it 5 consecutive very solid games for rookie Kevin Jones as he had another nice game against the NFC North rival Vikings Sunday. While he didn't reach 100 yards rushing, the Lions were losing by double digits for much of the game and the Vikes' forced Joey Harrington and WR Roy Williams to try and beat them. Jones did however, notch a TD and eclipsed the century mark in combined yards. Over the past 5 games Jones has run for 630 yards and 3 TDs. Against a Bear D is sorely missing it's field general, MLB Brian Urlacher, Kevin Jones is a very solid play and should bank 120 yards rushing and 2 TDs.

"SLEEPER RUNNING BACK WEEK 16":
Curtis Martin at Home against Patriots: The ultimate competitor, rugged and reliable Jet 'Back Curtis Martin is arguably enjoying his best season as a pro having already rushed for 1,500 yards and 14 TDs (including 2 receiving) with 2 games remaining. While the Patriots are certain to be irritated by their humiliating loss to the Dolphins in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, they will have their hands full trying to defend a loaded2 offense featuring QB Chad Pennington (who's seemingly recovered from his shoulder injury), Martin, and WRs Santana Moss and Justin McCareins. Look for Curtis to rack up 115 yards and 1 TD.

"RUNNING BACKS WHO SHOULD BE BENCHED WEEK 16":
Julius Jones at Home against Redskins: A tough 'Skin D should be able to handle aged QB Vinny Testaverde (who in Football years is old enough to have played alongside Chief Sitting Bull) AND Julius Jones this week. The Redskins did a nice job containing Eagle QB Donovan McNabb, WR Terrell Owens (who was knocked out of the game and will most likely miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury), and multi-purpose RB Brian Westbrook last week.
Edgerrin James at Home against Chargers: Manning will be gunning for the TD pass that will tie Marino's record this week. After he tosses that TD... he'll be looking to toss another TD, the one that will break Marino's remarkable 48 TD record. And although Manning did give the ball to Edge' on the goal-line for the Colts second TD last week, he probably won't be so magnanimous this week. Against a Charger D that flows to the ball so quickly and consistently shuts down the opposition's run game, Edge' is a risky play this week with league championships riding upon every fantasy starter.
Onterrio Smith / Michael Bennett at Home against Packers: Until such time as Viking head coach Mike Tice settles upon his feature 'Back, these two will split carries diminishing their value. The Packers are a team easily run upon and while either 'Back could, and should, have value this week... are you willing to gamble away your league championship if you pick the wrong running one? Unless your other RB options are so weak as to be worthless, your best gamble is to sit both Viking RBs.

"MUST START WIDE RECEIVERS WEEK 16":
Randy Moss at Home against Packers: Last week at Lambeau and without a true threat opposite him, Jaguar wideout Jimmy Smith hauled in a pair of TDs. This week a healthy Moss, who has the very capable WR Nate Burleson opposite him, should be capable of dismantling a Packer secondary that is truly awful and banged up. Look for 120 yards and 2 TDs this week as Moss helps the Vikings secure a playoff berth and exorcise the ghosts of seasons past.
Javon Walker at Vikings: On the opposite side of the field Packer WR Javon Walker is having his best season as a pro and has a very capable WR in Donald Driver opposite him. Walker should be able to capitalize on a Viking secondary that was picked apart by Lion QB Joey Harrington last Sunday and is still missing it's top corner and leading tackler, Antoine Winfield; 125 yards and 1 TD.
Chad Johnson at Home against Giants: As anticipated when I listed Chad Johnson as one of my "Wide Receivers Who Should Benched" last week, the Bill CBs did a masterful job of shutting down both Johnson and his mouth. This week however, a Giant defense that has been hit hard by injuries will have a very difficult time trying to handle RB Rudi Johnson, emerging WR T.J Houshmanzadeh and WR Chad Johnson. Chad Johnson should be the greatest beneficiary of a Giant defense that will be stretched to the breaking point, so look for him to have a big day; 125 yards and 2 TDs wouldn't be an unreasonable projection.
Jerry Porter at Chiefs: Having recorded 3 TDs last Sunday against the woeful Titans, Porter should have another big receiving day against a Chief secondary that has been victimized through the air for the past 7 straight games. 120 yards and 2 TDs.

"SLEEPER WIDE RECEIVER WEEK 16":
Lee Evans at 49'ers: Evans was one of my "Must Play Wide Receivers" last week and stepped up to that challenge, responding with a 100 yard receiving day and 1 TD. This week, against a 49'er team that has suffered significant defensive injuries (but which team hasn't?) and is already assessing roles and auditioning players for next season, Evans should be good for 100 yards and a score or 2. A Buffalo team (and QB) that re-discovered itself and won 5 of 7 games when standout RB Willis McGahee was inserted into the starting lineup will be forced to win without him and the 'Back he replaced, Travis Henry, this week due to their respective knee and ankle injuries. Thus, the Bills will be even more reliant upon QB Drew Bledsoe and the passing game with unproven RB Shaud Williams getting the nod this Sunday.

"WIDE RECEIVERS WHO SHOULD BE BENCHED WEEK 16":
Reggie Wayne at Home against Chargers: As they did last week against Baltimore, the Colts face another top defense this week. And although this Charger defense is more stingy against the run than pass, they are capable of closing down at least one of Manning's weapons. This week I will again choose Reggie Wayne to be the least produtive Colt receiver. WRs "Marvelous" Marvin Harrison ALWAYS finds a way to get himself open, Brandon Stokely continues to seemingly be overlooked by the opposition, and Colt TEs Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard may well be the best receiving TE duo in the league.
Hines Ward at Home against Ravens: Boasting nickleback Deion Sanders and outstanding, aggressive and swift CBs in Gary Baxter and Chris McAlister, the Steelers will probably have a game plan revolving more upon powerful RB Jerome Bettis.

Good luck to everyone still vying for their league championships!