Friday, January 15, 2010

Chief Fool a finalist for best humor article

I thought you'd like to know that one of my columns is a finalist for "Fantasy Humor Article of the Year" in the annual Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards.

What? You're surprised there's an association for fantasy writers? Yeah, I was too a couple years back. But I guess we shouldn't be. After all, there's an association for everything, including other associations!

I'm not certain which column is up for the award since I don't know which of my publication clients nominated me, but I'm guessing it's my Real Men of Genius spoof from October 2.

Anyway, I figured I'd better let you know now in case I don't win! The Awards will be presented at the FSWA's national conference in Vegas on January 26th. I won't be there, but I've asked Steve Martin to accept on my behalf.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2009 Biro's Heroes & Zeros Awards

Before we begin another interminable fantasy offseason, we have one bit of unfinished business left to handle. After all, it’s the awards season across this great land of ours, and that pasty-skinned guy from Twilight shouldn’t suck up all the attention.

So let’s take a quick stroll back through 2009 to examine the players we rooted for and against and – with as much objectivity as we can muster – give credit where credit is due.

Our annual accolades have but a few important criteria:

1. Consistency on a weekly basis is next to godliness.
2. Performances during the fantasy playoffs – for our purposes, NFL Weeks 14 through 16 – are given extra weight. Players who let their owners down at the worst possible time earn our eternal scorn. (Hear that, Aaron Rodgers?)
3. Week 17 performances are disregarded since most fantasy leagues hold their Super Bowl in Week 16, per the wishes of the late, great Pete Rozelle. Except where otherwise noted, all statistics quoted are through Week 16.
4. As always, I’m open to your feedback on these awards, including those that cause you heartburn. Feel free to email me, and be sure to begin your message with “You are an idiot because…”

Without further ado, I am pleased to present the 2009 Biro’s Heroes & Zeros Awards:

Most Valuable Player: Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. Any one of the top four or five QBs would have given you stellar performance most weeks, but Johnson soared above the competition at fantasy football's most indispensable position. Runner-up: Peyton Manning, QB, Colts.

“Peerless Price Memorial” Bust of the Year: Matt Forte, RB, Bears. The consensus top-five draft pick followed up his sensational rookie season with four lousy touchdowns and one, count ‘em, one 100-yard rushing performance. He was so inept that most of his owners refused to start him down the stretch. Runner-up: Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants.

Surprise of the Year: Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys. It’s safe to say that even his own team was surprised by Austin’s breakout season. Despite the obvious need for new blood following Terrell Owens’ departure, Smilin’ Miles was a bit player until an injury to Roy Williams opened the door in Week 5. Runner-up: Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers.

Mr. Big Play: DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles. He made news in Week 15 by scoring on a 19-yard pass, his first touchdown of the season spanning fewer than 35 yards. Jackson amassed 11 total TDs as a receiver, runner and returner, eight of which covered more than half the field. Runner-up: Robert Meachem, WR, Saints.

Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings. It didn’t take him long to get in sync with Brett Favre, who connected with the rookie on TD strikes in his first two games. Much like Jackson, Harvin was a three-dimensional threat. Only severe migraines slowed him down. Runner-up: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos.

Comeback Player of the Year: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. Face it. You either avoided Brady due to lingering concerns over his knee injury, or drafted him with your fingers crossed. Though he fell well short of his 50-TD “Tom Terrific” season of 2007, Brady re-joined the elite QB ranks and, most important, he stayed upright all season. Runner-up: Alex Smith, QB, 49ers.

Best Waiver Wire Acquisition: Miles Austin. Those who scooped him up after his coming-out party in Kansas City were rewarded with the No. 3 wideout in Fantasyland. Runner-up: Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs.

Most Devastating Injury Loss: Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins. He amassed 746 combined yards and eight TDs before a foot injury in Week 10 knocked him out for the duration. Since Ricky Williams was already owned in virtually every league, those who didn’t handcuff the backup were left scrambling with few suitable proxies available. Runner-up: Owen Daniels, TE, Texans.

Steal of the Draft: Ray Rice, RB, Ravens. Available as late as the seventh round, Rice was considered a risky pick as part of Baltimore’s three-headed backfield committee. Once he shook off Willis McGahee’s annoying goal-line poaches, Rice emerged as a dual-threat superstar in the mold of the Titans’ Johnson. Runner-up: Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals.

Most Overrated Player: Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals. Despite leading his team to a most unlikely division crown, Palmer posted just one 300-yard game all season, and his multi-TD outings were few and far between. Runner-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons.

“Thomas Jones Memorial” Most Underrated Player: Thomas Jones, RB, Jets. I can’t recall ever seeing a fantasy owner celebrate after drafting Jones. In fact, most of us only do so when he slides so far we feel we have no choice. And yet, once again, he quietly performed at an elite level, finishing among the top six fantasy RBs for the second consecutive year. This award shall henceforth bear his name. Runner-up: Donald Driver, WR, Packers.

Made Chicken Salad from Chicken Scratch: Steven Jackson
, RB, Rams. Rising above the muck and mire that is the Rams franchise, Jackson somehow remained an elite performer even though his team seemed incapable of penetrating the red zone. Despite playing hurt for much of the season, Jackson proved that greatness can’t be overshadowed even by the worst of circumstances. Runner-up: Jamaal Charles.

Biggest Postseason Disappointment: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. Despite finishing as the top passer in Fantasyland, Rodgers’ unexpected implosion in Week 14 (180 yards, 0 TDs) against the Bears cost countless owners their first-round matchup and a chance to enjoy his fine rebound the following week. Rodgers’ Week 16 performance wasn’t very special, either. Runner-up: Steven Jackson.

Most Spectacular Bench Performance: Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns. He eclipsed Jim Brown’s team record with 286 rushing yards and 3 TDs in Week 15. It’s a shame nobody was starting him. Runner-up: Palmer (233 passing yards, 5 TDs in Week 7).

Lived Up to the Hype: Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers. True, the hype had long ago faded away; but the perennial underachiever finally became the dominant force the 49ers thought they were getting with the sixth overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft. Runner-up: Favre.

“Frisman Jackson Memorial” Irrational Exuberance Award: Ryan Moats, RB, Texans. Fantasy owners flocked to Moats after his 3-TD, 151-total-yard “breakout” performance in Week 8, then realized they bought a big bag of nothing when he returned to obscurity immediately thereafter. Runner-up: Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Browns.

Worst Sophomore Jinx: Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos. One of the brightest stars of the Class of 2008 was released by most disappointed owners well before Week 6 when he returned both a kickoff and a punt for his only TDs of 2009. Runner-up: Steve Slaton, RB, Texans.

Too Little Too Late: Jay Cutler, QB, Bears. Over the first 15 weeks of the season, Cutler connected on just 19 TD passes, while throwing 25 interceptions. He tried to erase those bitter memories by passing for 549 yards, 8 TDs and just one INT in the final two games. Runner-up: Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (Week 15).

Team Bust of the Year (aka “They Are Who We Thought They Were”): Oakland Raiders. Bruce Gradkowski got hurt just as he was threatening to become a legitimate fantasy factor. Their top rusher (Michael Bush) ranked 44th among all RBs. No receiver finished among the top 60. Only tight end Zach Miller belonged anywhere near a fantasy roster, albeit on the bench. Just go away, baby. Runner-up: Cleveland Browns.

“Plaxico Burress Memorial” Bonehead of the Year: Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos. He got off on the wrong foot with his new coach by acting like a spoiled brat, then concluded an otherwise impressive season back in the coach’s doghouse. Runner-up: Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs/Bengals.

Most Likely to Succeed in 2010: Jamaal Charles. Beginning in Week 10, Charles went on a rampage that only a handful of elite RBs could match. If Kansas City manages to upgrade its offensive line during the offseason, Charles will be a bona fide first-round draft pick. Runner-up: Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers.

That's it for my weekly columns. I hope they helped you dominate your league this season.

Though daily coverage will be suspended on the Fantasy Fools blog until around the 2010 NFL Draft, I'll be posting off and on throughout the offseason as important developments occur.

Thanks for your loyalty, and we'll be back for another great fantasy season before you know it! Until then, stay healthy and safe.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Perfect Draft: Final Cut

What? You mean it’s…um…over?

Say it ain’t so!

In fact, the fantasy season can’t be over until we engage in our annual rite of self-flagellation, where we step into the DeLorean, dial up the last week of August 2009, and transport ourselves back to our draft room armed with the mother of all cheatsheets.

That’s right. It’s time to take one last look at what could have been with our highly controversial, often-imitated, never-duplicated Perfect Draft: The Final Cut.

As always, we start with a few key assumptions:

1. We're playing in a 10-team league using a standard scoring system that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one team defense;
2. We will draft from the middle (fifth) position in a zig-zag format, meaning Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew won’t be available for our first pick;
3. The preseason average draft position (ADP) of each player – according to multiple mock draft sites canvassed during the last week of August – is used to determine the most valuable selections in each round;
4. Week 17 performances are disregarded – all statistics quoted below cover the first 16 weeks – and production during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14 through 16) is given extra weight, both positively and negatively; and,
5. Since every draft plays out differently, we'll need a little luck along the way.

And finally, in the spirit of truth, justice and the American Way, our goal is nothing short of total domination and the abject humiliation of our opponents.

Now, with the fifth pick of the 2009 Fantasy Draft, we should have selected…

Round 1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. Even if AP or MJD were available, Johnson would be the hands-down pick. With 10 consecutive 100-yard games to end the season (11 counting Week 17), the most explosive tailback on the planet channeled some of the legendary, multi-dimensional seasons of Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes on his way to Fantasy MVP honors.

Round 2. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts. If Andre Johnson or Randy Moss slides to us, we have to take them, and opt for Aaron Rodgers in the next round. Otherwise, Manning offers more week-over-week consistency than the higher-scoring Drew Brees and we’ll avoid the Week 14 implosion of the top-ranked Rodgers.

Round 3. Roddy White, WR, Falcons. He gets the nod over Marques Colston by virtue of his Week 16 heroics. Though White couldn’t keep pace with AJ or Moss, his 1,087 yards and 10 TDs will be welcome on our roster.

Round 4. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals. Wes Welker was the superior pick in point-per-reception leagues, and Vincent Jackson had a better first half of the season. But 85 gets the nod thanks to his stronger finish, including touchdowns over the final four weekends.

Round 5. Thomas Jones, RB, Jets. Rarely spectacular but consistently productive, Thomas delivered 100 yards and/or at least one TD in three out of four games. He wasn’t the sexiest pick in this round. Just the best one.

Round 6. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles. “Mr. Big Play” often racked up more fantasy points on one snap than most wideouts tallied in an entire game. Whether it was as a receiver, a returner or an occasional runner, Jackson provided consistent firepower that was nearly impossible to overcome.

Round 7. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens. Once he shook off Willis McGahee’s nagging goal-line poaches, Rice emerged as a fantasy superstar. Like our first draft pick, he was as lethal receiving as rushing, and rarely had an off game. Matt Schaub likewise offered terrific value in this round.

Round 8. Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals. The steal of the draft and an every-week starter until an injury knocked him off stride in Week 10. Benson still deserves a place on our squad.

Round 9. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. Truth be told, we’ll only need him for Manning’s Week 6 bye and the finale, but Big Ben had several dazzling performances of his own throughout the season.

Round 10. Eagles defense/special teams. The Jets, Saints and Packers offered similar production and were available later or in free agency; but Philly boasted the top-ranked unit in most scoring formats – thanks to 36 takeaways, 39 sacks and DeSean Jackson’s return prowess – so they get the nod.

Round 11. Brett Favre, QB, Vikings. Until his December swoon, the old man was a viable NFL MVP candidate. We’ll scoop him up here – probably a few rounds earlier than necessary – just to keep him off a competitor’s roster.

Round 12. Brent Celek, TE, Eagles. We’ll start the season strong with Celek, then switch to Plan B once we realize our next pick is for real.

Round 13. Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers. Though Dallas Clark had more yards, Davis had more TDs and was substantially cheaper. Long after most of us had written him off, the perennial underachiever finally lived up to the hype.

Round 14. Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings. Nobody was happier to see Favre wearing purple than this third-year receiver. While the Giants’ Steve Smith was another fine selection here, especially in PPR leagues, Rice was a delicious treat most Sundays.

Round 15. David Akers, K, Eagles. Though we’d normally prefer to wait until the final round to secure our kicker, we might as well grab the No. 1 guy while he’s available. Besides, we’ll have more fun raising eyebrows with our next two picks.

Round 16. Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys. Once he seized a starting job with his masterful Week 5 performance, Smilin’ Miles earned a new nickname and vaulted into the ranks of the elites, finishing as the No. 3 wideout in Fantasyland.

Round 17. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs. I had the good sense to draft him late, but got impatient and waived him before he exploded. Those who jumped on his bandwagon after Larry Johnson was released were richly rewarded down the stretch.

So, how perfect was your draft?

Coming next week: We’ll wrap up the season with the 2009 Biro’s Heroes & Zeros Awards.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Week 17 Heroes & Zeros

This was a great week to start…

Brett Favre, QB, Vikings -- Hurled 4 TDs while amassing 316 yards, before checking out early.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears -- Finished a disappointing season on a high note, passing for 276 yards and 4 TDs.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers -- Passed for 220 yards and 3 TDs, and added 17 yards on the ground.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs -- Punctuated his outstanding second half of the season with 259 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens -- Stiff-armed the Raiders for 167 rushing yards and 3 TDs.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills -- Rumbled for 212 rushing yards and caught 2 passes for 15 yards and a TD.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers -- Scored twice while generating 132 combined yards.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans -- The Beast ran for 134 yards and 2 TDs as he passed the 2,000-yard mark for the season. Added 3 receptions for 20 yards.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans -- Rushed for 119 yards and 2 TDs and caught 3 passes for 26 yards.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos -- Rushed for 50 yards and 2 TDs, and caught 3 passes for 48 yards.
Thomas Jones, RB, Jets -- Ran for 78 yards and punched in 2 TDs.
Fred Taylor, RB, Patriots -- The old man scored twice while rushing for 33 yards.

Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings -- Grabbed 6 passes for 112 yards and 2 TDs.
Devin Aromashodu, WR, Bears -- Continued his late-season emergence with 5 catches for 46 yards and 2 TDs.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos -- Reeled in 14 passes for 213 yards.
Malcolm Floyd, WR, Chargers -- Caught 9 passes for 140 yards.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots -- Did his best Wes Welker imitation, amassing 10 catches for 103 yards, making him a star in PPR leagues.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Vikings -- Hauled in 7 passes for 94 yards and a score.
Greg Olsen, TE, Bears -- He amassed 94 yards and a TD on 5 receptions.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers -- Caught 6 passes for 89 yards and the 13th TD of his breakout season.

Chiefs defense -- Scored TDs on a pair of Derrick Johnson interception returns, plus 2 sacks and another INT.
Packers defense -- Scored on an interception return and a safety, notched 3 turnovers and held the Cards to just 7 points.
Cowboys defense -- Generated 4 sacks, forced a fumble and shut out the Eagles.

This was a great week to play against…

Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals -- Threw 11 passes but completed just one for no gain, plus another to the wrong team.
Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals -- With nothing on the line, sat down after passing for just 31 yards.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets -- Somehow managed to lead his team to a 33-0 victory, playing the entire game, while throwing for just 63 yards.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens -- With everything on the line, only passed for 102 yards, without a score; but he still got the win.
Peyton Manning, QB, Colts -- As expected, played only briefly, passing for 95 yards and 1 INT, without a score.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots -- Despite playing most of the game, only tallied 186 yards and no TDs, with 1 INT.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants -- Threw for 141 yards and an INT, plus a fumble, with no scores, as his team imploded again.
Vince Young, QB, Titans -- Tossed 171 yards worth of passes, no TDs and 1 INT, while losing 2 yards on the ground.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles -- Passed for just 223 yards without a score.

Donald Brown, RB, Colts -- In what should have been his moment in the sun, the rookie lost 4 yards on 4 carries.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles -- Ran for 4 measly yards while chipping in 2 receptions for 5 yards.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers -- Hit the showers after totaling just 18 combined yards.
Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers -- Also held to 18 yards, all on the ground.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders -- While Justin Fargas sat out, he only gained 18 yards, plus 4 yards on a catch.
Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals -- Just 19 yards on the ground.
Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots -- Though Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk were inactive, Morris only contributed 9 rushing and 13 receiving yards on 3 catches.
Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals -- Limited to 24 rushing yards and 2 receptions for 4 yards.
Quinton Ganther, RB, Redskins -- Ran for only 27 yards, plus one 7-yard catch.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants -- Couldn’t muster much on his bad feet and ankles, running for just 13 yards and catching 2 passes for 33 more.
Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins -- Only rushed for 31 yards and caught 3 passes for just 14 more.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams -- Gutted out the finale but only managed 63 yards.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants -- Lost 5 yards on his only catch.
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals -- Held without a catch by Darrelle Revis.
Roy Williams, WR, Cowboys -- Shut out again.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs -- Limited to a single 6-yard reception.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots -- Caught one 12-yard pass before leaving with a serious injury.
Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets -- Caught 2 passes for 15 yards.
Saints WRs -- Marques Colston (1 for 3 yards), Robert Meachem (2 for 12) and Devery Henderson (1 for 18) made only cameo appearances.
Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens -- Held to a single 23-yard reception.
Donnie Avery, WR, Rams -- Only 2 receptions for 23 yards.
Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jaguars -- Fizzled down the stretch with just 2 catches for 28 yards.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers -- Just 3 catches for 29 yards.
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles -- Both big-play receivers held to identical 3-catch, 47-yard outings.

I didn’t see that coming…

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills -- Connected on 3 TDs and 155 passing yards in awful conditions.

Zack Miller, TE, Jaguars -- The backup reeled in 8 passes for 69 yards and 2 TDs.

Week 17 Sunday morning updates

Good morning, Fools. I hope you had a wonderful, safe, no-police-involved New Year's. I also hope you're playing for a Free for All Bowl prize rather than a championship today, because it could get ugly out there. Lots of stars sitting out the weekend's action, which should make for some interesting Heroes & Zeros tomorrow.

Let's take a look around the league as we prepare for the early games of Week 17...

The Chargers are expected to play Philip Rivers and other key starters only in the first half (maybe not the entire half) before bringing on the subs.

Peyton Manning & Co. likely won't even see that much action.

If Minnesota wins, don't expect to see much of Kurt Warner and the other Cardinals stars. But if they lose, Arizona has something to play for.

Most reports suggest the Packers will rest their starters most/all of today's game as well, though that could change depending on what happens earlier today.

I don't expect to see much of the Bengals' starters against the Jets either.

Drew Brees will be the Saints' No. 3 QB today, and Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore have already been ruled out. Don't expect much from Marques Colston or Reggie Bush either. Mark Brunell will start at QB, but don't expect him to soar against a Carolina defense that has been playing extremely well lately.

Good news for those counting on Donald Brown: Chad Simpson will sit out today's game with the Bills. He was the only guy likely to share carries with Brown, so look for a huge game by the rookie against the worst run defense in the land.

Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to play very sparingly with his bad ankles and feet. This is contrary to reports from earlier this week. Look for a heavy dose of Gartrell Johnson, with some Danny Ware mixed in, for the Gmen at the Vikings.

DeAngelo Williams is out again for the Panthers. Look for another big day from Jonathan Stewart.

Laurence Maroney (knee) and Kevin Faulk (healthy scratch) are both out for the Pats. Could be a very nice game for Sammy Morris, though Fred Taylor will get some carries, too.

Steven Jackson is active and will play today.

Ricky Williams also expected to play.

Michael Turner won't play for the Falcons, but it looks like Gonzo will suit up.

Devin Hester is expected to play for the Bears.

I heard a lot of hype from other "gurus" that Chargers WR Legedu Naanee would be a great play this week, with most of San Diego's starters sitting this one out. As it happens, Naanee will be out today with his foot injury. In fact, he may not even be back in time for their first playoff game.

Eddie Royal (neck/head) joins Tony Scheffler and Brandon Marshall on the sidelines today. Actually, I assume Marshall will be nowhere near the sidelines today...

Torry Holt won't play for the Jags.

Mario Manningham (shoulder) will sit this one out, too.

TE David Thomas, who has been pretty reliable in relief of the injured Jeremy Shockey, did not travel with the Saints to Carolina.

The kicking situation in San Francisco just keeps getting worse. First, Joe Nedney was sidelined with a bad hammy. Now, his replacement, Ricky Schmitt, hurt his groin and is out. Shane Andrus will kick for the Niners today.

After finally playing in last week's game, Adam Vinatieri (knee) is out again today. Matt Stover is back.

Neil Rackers will suit up for the Cards. Mike Nugent was waived.

High wind gusts and snow are expected in Cleveland today for the game with Jacksonville. The only players to like in this one are MJD and Jerome Harrison.

Bad weather (including 20-30 mph winds) are also in store for the game in Buffalo. You know Indy will be resting its key players, so expect good stuff out of Fred Jackson. If the weather were better, we might expect something good out of TO and Evans against the backups, but the conditions make them a risky bet.

Winds of 20-30 mph expected in NY for the Bengals-Jets game, and 10-20 mph winds are forecast for Carolina. Winds of 15-25 mph also expected in Miami for Steelers-Dolphins, but at least the temperature will be nice (high of 64 degrees).

Inactives are starting to be posted now. Look for my tweets for those and more late-breaking news.

Good luck to all Fools! Have a great day.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Week 17 Starters & Benchwarmers

You don’t need me advising you to start Chris Johnson and DeSean Jackson, or to bench Keith Null and David Clowney. So I’ll leave the obvious recommendations to the network bozos and focus instead on players typically on the bubble of most fantasy lineups. Here are my picks to roll, and get rolled, in Week 17.

Watch ‘em roll

Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles at Cowboys. He’s riding a two-game streak of 300-plus passing yards into a monster showdown with Dallas for the divisional crown. Look for more aerial fireworks as both teams find greater success passing than rushing.

Donald Brown, RB, Colts at Bills. Joseph Addai is unlikely to play much, if at all, in this contest, giving the rookie a chance to rack up big numbers against the NFL’s worst rush defense. Indy is likely to stick to its ground game to keep the heat off QB Curtis Painter, so Brown should see an abundance of carries.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears at Lions. His 74-yard outing against the Vikings on Monday night was hardly awe-inspiring, but it was better than most expected. Meanwhile, the leading candidate for 2009 Bust of the Year “honors” had his only 100-yard game of the season against Detroit in Week 4. Give Forte one more chance against the Lions.

Fred Jackson, RB, Bills vs. Colts. Regardless of who takes the snaps, Buffalo should lean on its running game against Indy’s backup defenders in the frigid confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium. Jackson is the team’s workhorse, and he should have little trouble finding the end zone for the first time since Week 13.

Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens at Raiders. Baltimore needs a win to secure a playoff birth, and Mason needs to atone for last week’s dropped TD pass. Oakland is unlikely to stand in the way of either objective.

More thumbs up: QBs Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub, Tom Brady; RBs Jonathan Stewart, Justin Snelling, Frank Gore, Knowshon Moreno, Mike Bell, Darren Sproles, Brandon Jackson, Quinton Ganther, Jerome Harrison; WRs Mike Sims-Walker, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Muhammad, Sidney Rice.

Roll ‘em back

Drew Brees, QB, Saints at Panthers. The Saints have locked up the NFC’s top seed, rendering this game meaningless. Meanwhile, they’re facing a Carolina defense that has held the Giants, Vikings, Bucs and Patriots to 10 points or fewer over the last four games. Even if Brees plays more than a half (which would be somewhat surprising), he’ll have a tough time posting his first multi-touchdown game since Week 14.

Cadillac Williams, RB, Buccaneers vs. Falcons. He was limited to 30 rushing yards in his last meeting with Atlanta, though he took his only reception eight yards for a score. The Falcons’ run defense has been suffocating its opponents recently, so don’t expect Cadillac to follow-up last week’s impressive outing with another.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles at Cowboys. Now that Brian Westbrook is back, the rookie is stuck in a full-fledged committee backfield. Factor in Dallas’ fifth-ranked run defense, which has turned up the heat down the stretch, and both Philly backs belong on your bench.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs at Broncos. The last time these teams met, Matt Cassel played so poorly he was benched. He hasn’t done much better since; and with Denver still fighting for their playoff lives, their stingy secondary will blanket Bowe throughout this contest.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals at Jets. He’s talking a lot of smack (surprise!), but don’t expect him to back it up this time. Not only is Ochocinco likely to be pulled early in a mostly meaningless game for his team, but Darrelle Revis will be all over him as the Jets seek a victory and a postseason berth.

More thumbs down: QBs Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer; RBs Joseph Addai, Pierre Thomas, Arian Foster, Laurence Maroney, Tim Hightower, LaDainian Tomlinson, Cedric Benson, all Raiders; WRs Reggie Wayne, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Bryant, Devery Henderson, Roy Williams, Chris Chambers, Hines Ward.


Devin Aromashodu, WR, Bears at Lions. Even though Devin Hester is expected to return for the finale, Aromashodu will have another grand opportunity to shine. Jay Cutler has targeted the shooting star a whopping 31 times over the last three games, including last week’s overtime winner. Johnny Knox’s knee injury is likely to keep him on the sidelines, opening the way for Aromashodu to continue his impressive audition for a 2010 starting job against the toothless Lions.

DON’T BE THE BONEHEAD WHO…schedules your league’s championship game in Week 17 again next season. Play it in Week 16, as Pete Rozelle intended, and wage a “Free for All Bowl” over the final weekend instead.