Monthly Archives: December 2009

Buffalo’s Buddy

We’re covering major front-office changes with NFL teams, and the Bills made one on New Year’s Eve by promoting chief operating officer and de-facto general manager Russ Brandon to franchise CEO to make room for national scout Buddy Nix to emerge as the team’s new GM. Below are some thoughts on the Bills’ new front office situation; you can compare it to other front-office changes in the NFL in this accumulated post.

After firing head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills realigned their front office by promting Brandon to the top spot under owner Ralph Wilson in the organization and making long-time scout Nix their GM. Although Brandon had been filling the GM role for the Bills, he is considered more of an overall organization man than an on-field talent evaluator. So now those duties go to Nix, who at age 70 has a long resume working with John Butler and A.J. Smith first in Buffalo and then in San Diego. That’s a pretty good pedigree when it comes to finding players. The question is whether Nix can take off his scout’s hat and begin to put together a team systematically. That’s especially important now considering that the Bills have a vacancy at head coach. The Bills are a team without a true identity and without a clear future at quarterback, and those are big issues that outweigh the presence of good to very good players like rookie safety Jarius Byrd, WR Lee Evans, or DE Aaron Schobel. Nix’s stamp has to go beyond good drafts to an overall plan. Maybe his long tenure in college coaching helps him do that, but getting a first shot at running an NFL front office at age 70 makes it far from a sure thing. Nix will help a ton on draft day; it’s what he does the rest of the year that will determine how the Bills go from here.

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Suicide Pool Picks – Week 17

10 in a row. Let’s end the season on a high note.

1. Denver over Kansas City – The Broncos have something to play for, and with the Jets flexed into the night game, that will remain the case even with a 4 o’clock kickoff. And a matchup against the Chiefs is among the juiciest possible games. So if you’ve saved the Broncos to this point, it will pay off.

2. San Francisco over St. Louis – The 49ers are playing for 8-8, and the Rams need a loss to lock up the No. 1 pick. This is a mismatch in which the motivations seem clear, and that makes it a solid pick.

3. San Diego over Washington – The Chargers have nothing to play for, but the Redskins have all but quit on head coach Jim Zorn. That, plus the cross-country trip, should be enough for even San Diego’s B team to get a win.

Trap to avoid – Indianapolis at Buffalo – This looks like an easy pick, but with the Colts pulling back the reins, any road game is dicey. So just stay away.

2.
Week 16: W Green Bay (over Seattle)
Week 15: W Baltimore (over Chicago)
Week 14: W Tennessee (over St. Louis)
Week 13: W Cincinnati (over Detroit)
Week 12: W Dallas (over Oakland)
Week 11: W Arizona (over St. Louis)
Week 10: W Miami (over Tampa Bay)
Week 9: W Atlanta (over Washington)
Week 8: W Chicago (over Cleveland)
Week 7: W Indianapolis (over St. Louis)
Week 6: L Jets (vs. Buffalo)
Week 5: W Philadelphia (over Tampa Bay)
Week 4: W San Francisco (over St. Louis)
Week 3: L Houston (vs. Jacksonville)
Week 2: L Jacksonville (vs. Arizona)
Week 1: W New Orleans (over Detroit)

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Pick ’em – Week 16

Bowls are mitigating our horrible college season at least a little. But there are still miles to go to get to .500. But we shall not quit…
(These picks were made Wednesday in order to include bowl games.)

NCAA
Arizona +3 vs. Nebraska
Stanford +10 vs. Oklahoma
Navy +7 vs. Missouri
Virginia Tech -6 vs. Tennessee
Northwestern +8 vs. Auburn
West Virginia -3 vs. Florida State
Louisiana State +3 vs. Penn State
Oregon -4 vs. Ohio State
Cincinnati +13 vs. Florida
UConn +4.5 vs. South Carolina
Ole Miss -3 vs. Oklahoma State
Michigan State +8.5 vs. Texas Tech
Boise State +8 vs. TCU
Georgia Tech -4 vs. Iowa

NFL
New York Giants +9 vs. Minnesota
Houston -8 vs. New England
Philadelphia +3 vs. Dallas
Baltimore -10.5 at Oakland
New York Jets -10 vs. Cincinnati

Last week – 4-3 college, 2-4 pro
Season – 54-76-3 college, 53-55-2 pro, 107-131-5 overall

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The 2009 All-Jersey Number Team

Over the past few weeks, we’ve analyzed the best players in the league at each position by jersey number. Now we’re combining those lists to create our 2009 all jersey-number team. From 1 to 99, here are the best players at each jersey number.

To see how we selected our finalists, you can review the jersey number project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this postand quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this postand kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post and linebackers in this post and defensive backs in this post.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals

2 – QB Matt Ryan, Falcons. Other position winner: P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots. Other position winner: QB Derek Anderson, Browns

4 – QB Brett Favre, Vikings. Other position winner: P Andy Lee, 49ers

5 – QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles. Other position winner: P Mike Scifres, Chargers

6 – QB Jay Cutler, Bears. Other position winner: PK Joe Nedney, 49ers

7 – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Other position winner: P Jason Baker, Panthers

8 – QB Matt Schaub, Texans. We originally gave the position nod to Matt Hasselbeck, but as Hasselbeck continues a steep decline, we’re switching to an ascending player in Schaub. Other position winners: QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks; PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

9 – QB Drew Brees, Saints. Other position winner: P Shane Lechler, Raiders

10 – QB Eli Manning, Giants. Other position winners: WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers; PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers

11 – WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. Other position winners: PK Sebastian Janikowksi, Raiders; QB Daunte Culpepper, Lions

12 – QB Tom Brady, Patriots. Other position winner: WR Marques Colston, Saints

13- QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals. Other position winner: WR Johnny Knox, Bears

14 – WR Brandon Stokely, Broncos. Other position winner: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

15 – WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos. Other position winners: QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks; P Craig Hentrich, Titans

16 – WR/RS Josh Cribbs, Browns. Other position winner: QB Charlie Batch, Steelers

17 – QB Philip Rivers, Chargers. Other position winners: WR Braylon Edwards, Jets; PK Shayne Graham, Bengals

18 – QB Peyton Manning, Colts. Other position winners: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings; P Jeff Feagles, Giants

19 – WR Miles Austin, Cowboys

20 – S Ed Reed, Ravens. Other position winner: RB Thomas Jones, Jets

21 – CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders. Other position winner: RB LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers

22 – CB Asante Samuel, Eagles. Other position winner: RB Matt Forte, Bears

23 – RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins. Other position winners: CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins; WR Devin Hester, Bears

24 – CB Darrelle Revis, Jets. Other position winner: RB Marion Barber, Cowboys

25 – RB Ryan Grant, Packers. Other position winner: S Ryan Clark, Steelers

26 – CB Antoine Winfield, Vikings. Other position winner: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins

27 – RB Ray Rice, Ravens. Other position winner: CB Rashean Mathis, Jaguars

28 – RB Chris Johnson, Titans. Originally, we opted for Adrian Peterson over Johnson, but as Johnson continues his historic season, and as Peterson continues to struggle, we’re going to make a switch. Other positional winners: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings; S Gibril Wilson, Dolphins

29 – CB Leon Hall, Bengals. Other position winner: RB Joseph Addai, Colts

30 – S Mike Brown, Chiefs. Other position winner: FB John Kuhn, Packers

31 – CB Cortland Finnegan, Titans. Other position winner: RB Jamal Lewis, Browns

32 – RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. Other position winner: S Eric Weddle, Chargers

33 – RB Michael Turner, Falcons. Other position winner: CB Charles Tillman, Bears

34 – RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins. Other position winner: S Dominique Barber, Texans

35 – CB Zack Bowman, Bears. Other position winner: RB Jerome Harrison, Browns

36 – S Nick Collins, Packers. Other position winner: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles

37 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins. Other position winner: FB Jason McKie, Bears

38 – S Dashon Goldson, 49ers. Other position winner: RB Samkon Gado, Rams

39 – RB Steven Jackson, Rams. Other position winner: CB Brandon Carr, Chiefs

40 – TE Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings. Other position winners: RB Brian Leonard, Bengals; S Marquand Manuel, Lions

41 – S Antoine Bethea, Colts. Other position winners: FB Lorenzo Neal, Raiders; TE Spencer Havner, Packers

42 – S Darren Sharper, Saints. Other position winner: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots

43 – S Troy Polamalu, Steelers. Other position winner: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers

44 – TE Dallas Clark, Colts. Other position winners: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants; S Jarrad Page, Chiefs

45 – FB Mike Sellers, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Leonard Pope, Chiefs; DB De’Von Hall, Colts

46 – RB Ladell Betts, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Daniel Fells, Rams; LB Vinny Ciurciu, Lions

47 – FB Lawrence Vickers, Browns. Other position winners: S Jon McGraw, Chiefs; LB Brit Miller, 49ers

48 – S Chris Horton, Redskins

49 – FB Tony Richardson, Jets. Other position winners: LB Zack Follett, Lions; DB Rashad Johnson, Cardinals

50 – LB Curtis Lofton, Falcons. Other position winner: OG Ben Hamilton, Broncos

51 – LB Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Other position winner: C Dominic Raiola, Lions

52 – LB Ray Lewis, Ravens

53 – LB Keith Bulluck, Titans

54 – OG Brian Waters, Chiefs. Other position winners: LB Andra Davis, Broncos; DE Quentin Groves, Jaguars

55 – OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens. Other position winners: DE John Abraham, Falcons; C Alex Mack, Browns

56 – LB Brian Cushing, Texans

57 – LB Bart Scott, Jets. Other position winners: C Olin Kreutz, Bears; DE James Wyche, Jaguars

58 – DE Trent Cole, Eagles. Other position winner: LB Karlos Dansby, Cardinals

59 – LB London Fletcher, Redskins. Other position winner: OG Nick Cole, Eagles

60 – OT Chris Samuels, Redskins. Other position winner: DT Joe Cohen, Lions

61 – C Nick Hardwick, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Gerard Warren, Raiders

62 – C Casey Wiegmann, Broncos

63 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts

64 – C Jake Grove, Dolphins. Other position winner: DT Kedric Gholston, Redskins

65 – OG Andre Gurode, Cowboys

66 – OG Alan Faneca, Jets. Other position winner: DT DelJuan Robinson, Texans

67 – C Jamaal Jackson, Eagles

68 – C Kevin Mawae, Titans. Other position winner: DE Jonathan Fanene, Bengals

69 – DE Jared Allen, Vikings. Other position winner: OT Jordan Gross, Panthers

70 – OG Leonard Davis, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Kendall Langford, Dolphins

71 – OT Michael Roos, Titans. Other position winner: DE Kroy Biermann, Falcons

72 – DE Osi Umenyiora, Giants. Other position winner: OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins

73 – OG Jahri Evans, Saints. Other position winner: DT Jimmy Kennedy, Vikings

74 – C Nick Mangold, Jets. Other position winners: OLB Aaron Kampman, Packers; NT Jacques Cesaire, Chargers

75 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots. Other position winner: OG Davin Joseph, Buccaneers

76 – OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings. Other position winner: NT Jamal Williams, Chargers

77 – OT Jake Long, Dolphins. Other position winner: NT Kris Jenkins, Jets

78 – OT Ryan Clady, Broncos. Other position winner: DE Jacob Ford, Titans

79 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers. Other position winner: OT Jeff Otah, Panthers

80 – WR Andre Johnson, Texans. Other position winner: TE Bo Scaife, Titans

81 – WR Randy Moss, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Owen Daniels, Texans

82 – TE Jason Witten, Cowboys. Other position winner: WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

83 – WR Wes Welker, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Heath Miller, Steelers

84 – WR Roddy White, Falcons. Other position winner: TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots

85 – TE Antonio Gates, Chargers. Other position winner: WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals

86 – WR Hines Ward, Steelers. Other position winner: TE Todd Heap, Ravens

87 – WR Reggie Wayne, Colts. Other position winner: TE Brent Celek, Eagles

88 – TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. Other position winner: WR Isaac Bruce

89 – WR Steve Smith, Panthers. Other position winner: TE Daniel Graham, Broncos

90 – DE Julius Peppers, Panthers

91 – DE Will Smith, Saints. Other position winner: OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs

92 – OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos. Other position winner: DT Albert Haynesworth, Redskins

93 – DT Kevin Williams, Vikings. Other position winner: OLB Anthony Spencer, Cowboys

94 – OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Aaron Schobel, Bills

95 – OLB Shaun Phillips, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons

96 – OLB David Bowens, Browns. Other position winner: DE Tyler Brayton, Panthers

97 – NT Kelly Gregg, Ravens. Other position winner: OLB Calvin Pace, Jets

98 – DE Robert Mathis, Colts. Other position winner: LB Brian Orakpo, Redskins

99 – OLB Jason Taylor, Dolphins. Other position winner: DE Andre Carter, Redskins

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FR: Week 16

Here is our Football Relativity comparison after Week 16. We’ve noted where we have moved teams up or down from the Week 15 comparison.

10 – Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers (UP A LEVEL) – The Colts surrendered against the Jets, and we’re not going to hold it against them. While it makes for a good sports-radio topic (especially for master of the obvious Erik Kuselias), the bottom line is that if Peyton Manning gets hurt, the Colts are sunk. I picked the Colts to win 9 games or less this year, and that’s because aside from Manning the Colts really don’t have special talent. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback worth five or six wins to his team, but Manning is. He is why the Colts are 8-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and he must be protected. This team is not the 2007 Patriots – it’s a flawed team with an all-time great at quarterback. Big difference. And we might see just how big that difference is in the playoffs against San Diego, which has a ton of momentum and great history against the Colts. If Philip Rivers wins the Super Bowl, he may well become the next Brett Favre – a rough-and-tumble quarterback who can still fling the ball around. It would be fun to see Rivers as a megastar – and that might be coming.

9 – New Orleans Saints (DOWN A LEVEL), Philadelphia Eagles (UP A LEVEL) – The Saints are slipping, and Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay is a sign of trouble. This is a team that is designed to play and win shootouts, and if they only score 17 points in a playoff game, they’ll be sunk. The bad news is that the NFC is full of teams like the Eagles (and Cowboys and Packers and Vikings too) that should be able to keep up with the Saints into the fourth quarter. At least the Saints finally clinched home-field advantage. Philly continues to move forward at a great pace, and whether they beat Dallas this week or not they’re a true contender. Give the Eagles credit for finally giving Donovan McNabb terrific targets in youngsters DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. They give the Eagles a scary factor the offense hasn’t had since T.O.’s cameo.

8 – Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL), Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots (UP A LEVEL) – The Cardinals whipped the lowly Rams, and they appear primed for the playoffs. This week’s game against the Packers might turn into a preseason-ish affair because the two teams could meet in the wild-card round. Green Bay continues to emerge, as their defense grows around rookies Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Brad Jones. The Patriots played their best game in a while in pasting the Jaguars, and if they play that way in the playoffs they’ll be a tough out. However, they have more issues than the Chargers or even the Colts do. Dallas beat Washington to clinch a playoff spot and put to rest the rumors of their December collapses, at least for this year. Now they must attack the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game since the mid-1990s.

7 – Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Bengals got an ugly but effective win over the Chiefs to lock up the AFC North. The Bengals will have to control the clock to win in the playoffs, but with Cedric Benson running so well they at least have a chance of that. The Vikings, meanwhile, lost their third game out of four, and lost for the second straight week to a team outside of the playoffs. And I’m not convinced that the Vikings are a prime-time team. Of their 11 wins, only three were solid victories against playoff teams (twice against Green Bay and against Cincinnati). They needed a missed field goal to beat Baltimore and a Favre miracle to beat San Francisco, and their other wins were against Detroit twice, Seattle, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Chicago. That’s a soft schedule that may have made the Vikes look better than they actually are. I don’t like where they are right now at all. Could their best hope be a wild-card round game against a Packers team they know they can beat?

6 – Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, New York Giants (DOWN A LEVEL), New York Jets (UP A LEVEL), Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers nipped the Ravens 23-20, but the way the game went made it look as though the Ravens might be the better team. Baltimore has the chance to make the playoffs if they can win in Oakland this week, and while that’s no gimme it is within their control. The Steelers, meanwhile, are fourth in line among 8-7 teams and therefore need help in two places to sneak in. Houston got a big win in Miami to stay in contention, but the Texans still need a ton of help to get in the playoffs. Still, a home win against the Patriots would give Houston its first winning season, and that’s something. (That win would also likely save Gary Kubiak’s job.) The Broncos lost in a valiant effort in Philadelphia, and now they’re on the outside of the playoffs looking in. They must win at home against Kansas City, which seems easy until you remember the Oakland game a few weeks ago. The Jets got a gift from the Colts’ day of rest, and they may get another against the Bengals this week. A win and the Jets are in. The Giants, meanwhile, capped a disappointing season by getting blasted 41-9 by the Panthers and being eliminated in the process. That was an ugly end to what has been a problematic season for Big Blue, and changes are undoubtedly in the offing.

5 – Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars (DOWN A LEVEL), Miami Dolphins (DOWN A LEVEL), San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Dolphins and Titans had chances to stay in the playoff race, but both lost home games to solid teams to end their hopes. Both are solid teams, but slow starts doomed them. The same is true for the Panthers, who have pulled off two straight upsets and seem to be building momentum for 2010. They’ve done enough to save John Fox’s job (if he wants to stay as a lame duck). Atlanta rebounded from a losing streak spurred by Matt Ryan’s injury to win its second straight game, and they’re another solid team. One more win would give Atlanta consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history, and that’s something to play for this week at Tampa. The Jaguars lost their playoff hopes in New England, and they’re going to settle toward being the seven- or eight-win team their talent indicates. Few teams have had more highs and lows than the Jaguars, who are the kings of unexpected results. San Francisco got its seventh win against Detroit, and the Niners should move to 8-8 in St. Louis this week. Given where that roster is, that would be a pretty solid result for the season. With a little more talent, Mike Singletary’s team will be in the playoff discussion.

4 – Chicago Bears (UP A LEVEL) – The Bears finally got a big-time performance out of Jay Cutler, and that helped them to a Monday-night win over the Vikings. That game feels more like a late-season feel-good win than a true building block for the Bears, but maybe it’s the start of something for Cutler. With the Lions on deck in the finale, the Bears could get to 7-9 and make this season look less depressing than it actually was.

3 – Buffalo Bills (DOWN A LEVEL), Cleveland Browns (UP A LEVEL), Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UP A LEVEL), Washington Redskins (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Browns and Buccaneers both won their second straight games, and the fact that they’re playing hard at this point is a plus. Neither team is that talented, but maybe they can build on this. The Raiders lost to the Browns, and with Charlie Frye you wouldn’t expect them to knock off the Ravens this week, but strange things happen in the Black Hole. The Seahawks and the Redskins, meanwhile, have packed things in to the point that it’s hard to imagine them pulling off wins in the season finale, while the Bills don’t have much hope with Brian Brohm at quarterback. At least they’ll see on the field if Brohm has potential to be in the mix in 2010.

2 – Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs – Now that Matthew Stafford is done for the season, the Lions look as though they’ll have to settle for two wins. But they’re a better team than last year because of the talent infusion that rookies Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and Louis Delmas have provided. All three of those picks were wins, and that could be the start of something. The Chiefs played tough in Cincinnati, but in the end their talent deficit showed once again. They need in 2010 the kind of draft Detroit had this year.

1 – St. Louis Rams – The Rams got blasted in Arizona and are all but on the clock. Getting a quarterback is a priority, because Marc Bulger is too brittle and not all that great when healthy. But it’ll be hard for the Rams or any other team to pass on celebrated DT Ndomukong Suh.

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Crazy Kicker of Week 16

Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski has long had crazy attached to his kicker resume. He was a first-round draft pick – that’s crazy. He has a great nickname – Sea Bass – that’s crazy. And Sunday, he did something crazy by booting a 61-yard field goal, the fourth-longest kick in NFL history. Only Jason Elam, Tom Dempsey, and Matt Bryant have kicked longer ones. So for that, Janikowski is the crazy kicker of the week.

Crazy Kickers of the Week
Preseason Week 0/1 – P A.J. Trapasso, Titans
Preseason Week 2 – WR/PK Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
Week 1 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 3 – P/holder Brian Moorman, Bills
Week 5 – P Steve Weatherford, Jets
Week 6 – P Jon Ryan, Seahawks
Week 8 – PK Josh Brown, Rams
Week 10 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 13 – PK/onside kicker Rob Bironas, Titans
Week 15 – P/holder Hunter Smith, Redskins
Week 16 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 16

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

This week we’re going to focus purely on players who should be starting for your team in the fantasy playoffs. That’s a higher standard than we’ve traditionally had in this post, but at this point in the season it’s the info you need to know.

Quarterbacks

Matt Moore, Panthers – Moore has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two weeks, and against a Saints pass defense that is banged up and could be resting key players like Darren Sharper next week, he could be in line for another big week in the season finale. If you’re looking for an emergency starter, look no further. Verdict: Applaud

Matt Ryan, Falcons – After missing two games, Ryan was back for the second game, and for the first time he was a fantasy factor with 250 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a good sign in terms of Ryan’s health, and with a game in Tampa Bay slated for the season finale, Ryan becomes a starting option for fantasy owners in leagues of 12 teams or more once again. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Arian Foster, Texans – Foster was supposed to get his shot as the Texans’ top running back last week, but an early fumble left him in the doghouse with just three touches. Against the Dolphins, though, Foster delivered a 97-yard performance that included a touchdown. Foster has talent, and if he gets the bulk of the carries this week against the Patriots more production could be in the offing. But Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is so wishy-washy in terms of which running back plays when that you simply can’t count on Foster to get enough touches. He’s not more than a flex option, and that’s the case only in leagues of 12 or more. Don’t rely too heavily on Foster; there’s simply too much risk of a nothing game. Verdict: A fraud

Jerome Harrison, Browns  – Maybe, finally, the Browns are sticking to something with Harrison, who followed his epic Week 15 performance with 148 yards and a score against the Raiders. The competition level gets harder against the Jaguars in Week 17, but Harrison looks like a hot hand that you’ll want to stick with. Verdict: Applaud

Brandon Jackson, Packers – Jackson scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) against the Seahawks, but two of those came in garbage time of a blowout win against the Seahawks. Given that Ryan Grant is still the bellweather back, Jackson isn’t a guy fantasy owners should turn to in the final week of the regular season. Verdict: A fraud

Chris Johnson, Titans – Week 17 is usually marked by star players getting rest before the playoffs. But now that Tennessee’s playoff hopes are flatlining, the goal in Tennessee will be getting Johnson to 2,000 yards rushing and beyond. The fact that he’s just 233 yards from the all-time single-season rushing record held by Eric Dickerson should encourage the Titans to feed Johnson early and often. He’s one fantasy football star who will play like one in the season’s final week. Verdict: Applaud

Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, Chargers – Sproles had three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in the Chargers’ 42-17 victory over the Titans on Christmas night, and he’s an interesting play in Week 17. You have to figure that San Diego, now that it has locked down a first-round bye, will sit LaDanian Tomlinson for most if not all of the game. The question is whether Sproles is so valuable that he too sits. It’s worth a shot to start Sproles and see, but Tolbert (who had 11 carries for 60 yards in Tennnessee) may end up being the most used fantasy back in the final week of the season. That makes both backs worth a flier as flex plays in 10- to 12-team leagues. Verdict: Applaud for both Sproles and Tolbert

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart exploded for 206 rushing yards and a score against the Giants, and if DeAngelo Williams sits out the final week of the season, Stewart will be a top-15 fantasy back once again. Even if Williams plays, you can still count on Stewart as a passable flex option. Verdict: Applaud

Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers – Williams has been one of the feel-good stories both from a human-interest perspective and from a fantasy football viewpoint. After Sunday’s 129-yard performance against the Saints, he’s now run for 781 yards and scored seven total touchdowns. Don’t overlook him as a potential starter this week against the Falcons, because he should be productive one more time. Verdict: Applaud

Wide receivers

Austin Collie, Colts – Collie had six catches for 94 yards against the Jets, and with the Colts in shut-down mode at the end of the season, he’s the youngster who stands to benefit. Don’t put too much on Collie, but if you’re looking for a third receiver he remains an option. Verdict: Applaud

Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney has been under the fantasy radar most of the season, but he popped his head up with two touchdowns among seven catches vs. the Eagles. But this performance had a lot to do with Eddie Royal’s absence, and that means Gaffney isn’t becoming a true fantasy threat. Verdict: A fraud

Roddy White, Falcons – This just in: White is good – really good – and he’s in a good offense for him. His eight-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown day against Buffalo is just a reminder to leave him in your lineup for Week 17. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Todd Heap, Ravens – Heap had just two catches this week against the Steelers, but both went for touchdowns. The season finale against the Raiders is appealing, especially since the Ravens must win to get in the playoffs, but Heap is still outside the top 12 fantasy tight ends. Owners simply can’t afford to count on touchdowns this heavily. Verdict: A fraud

Zach Miller, Raiders – After missing the Week 15 game, Miller returned against the Browns and had nine catches for 110 yards. It’s a good sign that Miller continues to produce even with Charlie Frye in the lineup. In the last 10 games in which he’s played, Miller has had at least four catches and at least 43 yards in eight. Although he doesn’t find the end zone much, if you’re  in need of a tight end in a massive league (14 teams or more), Miller remains a nice option. Verdict: Applaud

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