Wednesday, December 14, 2005

WEEK 14 WRAP-UP AND FANTASY PLAYOFF THOUGHTS

FANTASY PLAYOFF STRATEGY

Peeps’, as difficult as it is to believe, there are a mere 2 tilts remaining in the NFL’s regular season! A season, mind you, that sped along with all the velocity of a Roger Clemens Fastball.

Now, depending upon your preparation, you either;
A. Did your research, were well-prepared, and knocked the ball out of the park by having solid players at every position.

B. You suffered some key injuries or disappointing performances, but savvy trade moves and thorough research bolstered your squad. Such prescience allowed you to position yourself squarely within the “batter’s box,” and your franchise still has a chance to “finish in the money.”

C. You played the hand you were dealt, made a few solid Waiver Wire pick-ups, but no one was willing to trade with you… and you’re on the outside looking in.

Hopefully, tools such as ffspiral.com (the weekly “Start & Sit” pieces, the “LIVE Sunday Morning Chat,” and Kyle Trembley’s sharp observations and articles, amongst all “things Spiral”), Yahoo sports, AOL sports, Sportingnews.com, CBS Sportsline, my Blog, (www.jameythereferee.blogspot.com), and so on helped guide your team to a satisfactory finish. While it’s always about winning… is it really? The truth is, to me, anyway, it’s really about having fun and making some friends in the process. Through the outstanding community that populates the Sunday morning Football chat-room, I have made some nice friends and contacts-
In addition, these folks know that they can contact me with their Hoops and Hardball inquiries… and I can, and will, do the same!
KEYS TO POST-FANTASY C' PLAY!

1. Watch the weather reports... but don't bench a stud because Saturday's report say's "Snow for Sunday!" If you slide Chicago RB Thomas Jones to "Bench" because Storm Fields says rain likely... you're nothing short of a Biskit'-Head! HOWEVER, if Bronco QB Jake Plummer is slated to play in 10 degree, high wind conditions... and Mike Vick's playing in 70 Dome-Degrees... start Plummer and kick yer' own ass for roughly 8 months or so.

2. Go with the horse(s) that brung ya'! I can't emphasize that enuff'!
AS AN EXAMPLE! NY QB Eli Manning may not be the stud prolific Peyton the Colt is; not this season, anyway. However, easy-Eli has been semi-consistent and can be counted upon for 12-18 points per game. Yes, the young Mann' throws a butt-ugly ball, yes, the young Mann' has an irritating penchant of overthrowing his receivers high and yes, Eli tends to toss picks in bunches. ANY Safety playing Centerfield has a shot at a pick when the Big Blue Field General is forced to play catch-up for he becomes careless and is inclined to force his passes. Still, while he's been reliable, start a slinger like "QBuccaneer" Chris Simms at your risk. The potential for 5-8 more fantasy points over the course of a Playoff Week is outweighed by Manning's consistency.

3. Do NOT be afraid of making a 'Wire grab... even at this late date. New Eag' feature creature Ryan Moats was a highly touted draft pick... but stuck behind Brian Westbrook... Moats' opportunity to make a difference was limited. Now, with the Eags' out of Playoff contention and with Westy' sidelined due to injury... Moats has an opp' to flash his wares. Sunday, the young Eagle soared! Moats posted a line of 114/2 on a scant 11 totes against the resurgent Giant D... and that was quite a display. Next up? A ghastly-bad, 30th ranked (allowing almost 140 per game!) St. Looser' run D is next on the Eagle menu, don't hesitate to take a chance on Moats if you have at least 1 iffy skill po' option!

4. Do NOT under-estimate the value of the Kicking game! Giant Kicker Jay Feeley and 'Zona booter Neil Rakers helped guide my squads to money finishes... and Feeley's helped guide me to a #1 finish in one of my Sandbox leagues.

5. With Saturday games this week.... make certain to set your roster(s) by Friday night! I know this sounds funny, but have you ANY idea as to how many owners blank-out, accustomed to looking at Sunday morning's IR?

With the regular season just about over…

Chicago at Pittsburgh: “Even a bum-thumbed Roethlisberger can out-throw QB Kyle Orton. Orton is looking over his shoulder at a nearly ready Rex Grossman... this'll do bupkiss for his confidence. If the Bears win, it's because an injury riddled D (made) a couple of game-changing plays. The Bear D-backfield is pocked with injuries such as S Mike Brown. WR Hines Ward produces irregardless of the opponent, and the Steel City WILL receive better production from “Fast” Willie Parker.”

Here’s a game that could’ve gone either way. However, Chi-Town runs a 1 Horse offensive race; they ride Bear-back Thomas Jones. And, in such inclement weather, the NFC North leaders were offensively stymied. Under the very best of conditions QB Kyle Orton doesn’t set the field a’fire… he’s just not that kind of Quarterback. Thus, even a Field Goal might’ve made the difference for the Steel City in this one. But as it turned out, the brutal winter weather was ideal for “The Bus” and his Steel’ belted snow tires. Known to be a “Mudder,” (a back who excels in wet, muddy, mucky conditions) in a borderline blizzard Bettis was red-hot and crossed the ‘stripe twice on 17 carries and 101 yards. The Steelers had been widely criticized for what was perceived to be a “misuse” of the burly back’s talents. Namely, a curious lack of use. But alas, coach Cowher was one step ahead of all of his critics and kept RB Jerome Bettis shelved and “minty-fresh” for precisely this kind of game… at precisely this time of year. Playing “Lightning” to Bettis’s “Thunder,” “Fast” Willie Parker was an excellent change of pace runner and dodged and dashed through the falling flakes for 113 total yards on 24 touches. With Parker and Bettis jabbing away at the Bear D, Steeler QB Big Ben bum-thumbed his nose at the vaunted Chicago Secondary, throwing for 170 yards and a TD on 13 completions. Naturally, WR Hines Ward (3/27/1) was the recipient of Roethlisberger’s TD pass, and the vet’ receiver seems to produce irregardless of the opponent. The grizzled Bears… a team attempting to fend off a surging tribe of Minnesota Vikings… are clinging to the NFC North by a scant 1 game. When RB Thomas Jones (95 total yards and 1 TD) is kept in relative check… the Bears are kept in relative check. QB Kyle Orton was just not impressive in the “ho-ho-horrible” weather, throwing for 207 yards, and taking 3 Sacks. Perhaps most impressive was the Pittsburgh D! The Bears have been applying excruciating pressure with just their Front-4 all season long, and the Bear D has helped the O out by forcing critical turnovers and limiting opponents field position. But it was the boys from PA who brought down the QB and harried him all day long… and the Steel City escaped with a crucial W. Sunday, Pittsburgh will tangle with a VERY dangerous and suddenly confident Viking team. Minny’s turned major, and they picked off St. Louis Ram youngster Ryan Fitzpatrick 5 freakin’ times. In addition, the Vikes limited RB Steven Jackson to 67 yards (I predicted that S-Jax’ wouldn’t accrue more than 70 yards, nor would he find the ‘Zone. It feels good to be right!) on 19 carries. Still, given the human Bowling-Ball that is Jerome Bettis… you could do worse for a #3/”Flex” back. Likewise, “Fast” Willie Parker will scamper for 75 or so yards on a run D that HAS proven vulnerable in the past, and he’ll snare another 40+ receiving yards. I do not, however, think QB Ben Roethlisberger (173/1 TD Sunday) is a great start. Roethlisberger’s fractured digit clearly impacts his ability to throw deep, and that component of the offense was missing this past week. Given his 4-fingered limitations, Big Ben’s a “slightly better than average” start. Do keep in mind, though, that Minny’s Safeties and Corners have been pullin’ picks down in bunches! The Bears have an all-important conference game with a frenzied flock o’ Falcons. Atlanta’s coming off a VERY impressive Monday night drubbing of New Orleans… and man oh man, did Hot-Lanta send those Saints marching Home. That is, to wherever “home” is this week, anyway. The Bears did a poor job stopping the run this past week… but let’s factor in the snow. Chicago will enjoy the distinct advantage of hosting the Falcons, and Atlanta is the very definition of a warm-weather team. Boasting a 6-1 Home record, and if the weather is the least bit icky… and lord knows it’s ALWAYS icky in mid-December, BIG advantage to Chicago. I would start RB Thomas Jones in a New York minute, as the Falcs’ struggle to stop the run under the best of circumstances… and that’s about it. Oh yes, start your Bear IDPs such as Vasher, Briggs, Tillman, Urlacher… .

Miami at San Diego:Bolt' back LT is hobbled... but he DID practice. How much he has to offer could be significant. WR Chris Chambers hung a silly 230+ receiving yards and a touch'... and he would have eclipsed 300 receiving yards had he not dropped a couple of easy passes (last week). Look for the Bolts' to continue their upward surge.”

I have no doubt that the San Diego Chargers committed the ultimate sin; the Bolts’ looked past their opponents, Dolphins. Miami snapped San Diego’s 5 game winning streak by a scant 2 points with their 23-21 victory, and in so doing? Saban’s Phins’ remain in the hunt for that most elusive prey… a post-season berth. With a 5-7 record prior to Sunday, Miami was arguably the easiest of San Diego’s remaining foes. Now, two games behind the 10-3 Broncos and tied for 2nd with the 8-5 Chiefs, the former electrifying Bolts’ have been reduced to mere static electricity! If they are to return to the Post-Season, Dem’ Bolts MUST win their final 3 games; at UNDEFEATED Indy’, at the equally feisty Chiefs, and then they wrap the reg’ by hosting a beef-jerky tuff’ herd o’ Broncos.
Even the Dolphin players felt that San D’ was putting forth a lackluster effort… that they were “looking ahead.” Sadly for 110% effort athletes such as QB Drew Brees, TE Antonio Gates, FB Lorenzo Neal, and RB LaDainian Tomlinson, a case of myopia may lead to a case of “seeyounextyearia.” A few notes: RB LaDainian Tomlinson suffered a case of badly bruised ribs during the Week 13 game against the Raiders and was held to 75 yards on 21 carries Sunday. “LT” seems to be slowing down, for in his past 7 games, the NFL’s feature back eclipsed 100 yards rushing only twice. On a brighter note, QB Drew Brees threw for 279 yards and 2 TDs, he rushed for another score, and tossed a single pick. In addition, Sunday saw Brees set career marks for both completions (35) and attempts (52) , and record a 3rd career 3,000+ yard passing season. With 2nd year clipboard-clutcher Philip Rivers drawing a fat paycheck but getting all itchy and scratchy to play, the smart money say’s the Chargers deal the young Signal Caller to a QB desperate team such as the Jets, Lions, Saints, Ravens or Browns (though Cleve. rookie Charlie Frye’s recent play has raised eyebrows).Agile leviathan Antonio Gates continues to set the bar for TE-Xcellence, hauling in 13 passes for 123 yards and a touch’. As for the Dolphins… QB Gus Frerotte and WR Chris Chambers are getting along like “PB & J!” Chambers has always had the potential of being every team’s pass catching dream; an explosive, swift, vertical threat, able to make things happen after the catch. But, with QBs such as Jay Fiedler over Center… there wasn’t an arm in the house capable of hitting Chambers downfield. Now, with Frerotte and Chambers playing pitch and catch, “CC” (8/121/2) has notched his 3rd consecutive great outing. Just to be clear about things, Chambers had recorded more than 4 receptions in only 3 games before his week 12, 6 grab, 101 yard explosion. In addition, “CC” had eclipsed 80 receiving yards in a mere 2 games up until that game as well. Let’s call the slate clean; in his past 3 games, Chambers has notched 29 catches, 460 receiving yards, is averaging a hair under 16 YPC, and has stacked a trio of TDs. Those diggies’, my fantasy friends, are “Randy Moss and T.O-esque!”
Next week, in order to keep their post-season hearts a’beating, the Bolts’ must administer a beating to the “loss-less” Colts. Now, with an undefeated season on the line… and make no mistake, Dungy and his bunch are eager to reach and cross such a threshold, Indy will play Peyton and pals long enough to build a double-diggy lead. The In’D has… “had issues” with opposing backs (“struggled” would be too strong a term) in recent weeks. This past Sunday, Jacksonville’s unspectacular bunch racked-up 74 ground yards. Now a banged-up, playing at 75% “LT” is better than… oh, say MOST backs at 100%. Still, in what promises to be a VERY tough tilt the Colts will bring the wood in order to both extinguish the Chargers and to prepare themselves for a physical post-season stretch. TE Antonio Gates should enjoy a VERY productive game against the teeny-tiny Colt Secondary. We’re talkin’ Elven-small: FS Bob Sanders and CB Jason David at 5-8, and CB Nick Harper and SS Mike Doss at 5-10 small. And as for the Dolphins…2 impressive wins over Denver and Carolina through Week 3 seemed an excellent portent of things to come. However, like fish outta’ water the ‘Phins floundered and proceeded to drop 6 of their next 7 contests. Maybe it’s no coincidence that during Week 12, when RB Ricky Williams and WR Chris Chambers started playing well, Miami began their winning streak. With slender post-C hopes resting on the final 3 games, Miami can afford to look no further than Sunday’s game against the Jets. Gang-Green won this past week ONLY because Raider owner/trouble-maker Al Davis insisted coach Norv Turner start backup slinger Marques Tuiasosopo. Featuring a terrible 2ndry WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael are excellent fantasy starts, and as he has been, RB Ricky Williams is a versatile, motivated fantasy weapon. While RB Ronnie Brown may be the team’s future feature… Williams’ is the “now.” Owners who hope to advance to their fantasy Championships should continue to sticky-with-Ricky!

BEST OF THE REST

Cleveland at Cincinnati: “Cleveland can score, and young Signal Caller Charlie Frye is an intriguing talent; Frye is mobile and strong-armed. HOWEVER... Carson Palmer? Chad Johnson? RB Rudi Johnson? Uh-uh, ain't no way the Browns surprise. … Carson's a criminal! Dude is setting FIRE to the league. …The Browns pass defense, ranking (11th), belies their vulnerability. Just as a "for instance," Minny' Signal Caller Brad Johnson tossed a TD troika and 200+ during their Week 12 contest… Allowing almost a buck-30 by ground, the Browns are wussy-tuff' against the run. Rudi faced a MUCH tough Steeler run D last week, and coming off that extraordinary game (21/98/2)... look for a rock-solid 85+/1-2 TD HALF. My concern? Once the Browns are buried, the Bengs' will pull Johnson and stick explosive young RB Chris Perry in the game.”

Curiously close… peculiar passing numbers…but the better team escaped by the hair on their collective chinny-chin-chins! Cincy’ winning by a Shayne Graham 3-point boot (23-20)… who would’ve figured such a thing? I will tell you this, though, the AFC’s post-season players… Indianapolis, Denver and New England, are poring over the game-film; how do you snuff-out flame-throwing c’ARSON Palmer (93/1/1 Sunday)? While I’m not suggesting that a middling 4-9 club managed to solve the “Palmer problem,” the fact of the matter is, Cleveland DID put the clamps on a previously powerful passing attack. But, how? First and foremost, the game-time weather conditions were abysmal. The Brown staff likened them to playing in a sub-zero wind tunnel. Secondly, the Brown Secondary dropped into coverage and blanketed the Cincy’ receiving corps. The Cleveland D was SO focused upon stopping Palmer and the passing game that they practically abandoned the run D… leaving the Bengs’ with no choice but to turn to Rudi Johnson. Much like the hi-octane Colt offense… Cincy’ forces foes to pick their personal poisons. If Palmer posted personal lows due to the stifling Browny’D, then Rudi (30/169/1) Johnson hung season-best rushing diggies’ due to the freedom afforded him. Incidentally, WR Chad Johnson also posted a season-low day with 2 catches for 22 yards, and heavy-footed K Shayne Graham continues to be a weapon par excellence. Graham drilled both XP’s and all 3 of his FG attempts Sunday, and on the season Graham has made 23 of 27 FGs, is 39 for 39 in XPS. On a related note, Cin City’ CB Deltha O’Neal tied his career record with his 9th pick of the year and will post a 2nd best season of passes defended (so far, 18). In short, the Bengals did just enough to win the game. As for the Browns, TE Steve Heiden snared Charlie Frye’s sole TD pass, and boobin’ Reuben Droughns rumbled and stumbled for a spare 74 yards on 21 totes. This week, the Browns oppose a softy-Oakie’ team. Again, if QB Kerry Collins is back at the helm of the Raiduhs’ lack-luster O… there had BETTER be some heat applied to Al Davis’ shiny head. RB Droughns and WR Antonio Bryant are solid starts for the Browns. Sunday, the scheduling committee gave the Playoff-bound Bengs’ a gimme’. In what should be a weak cat fight, Cincy’ will maul Detroit. Start… well, everyone!

Oakland at N.Y. Jets: “If Black & Silver owner Al Davis insists (upon) unspectacular QB Marques Tuiasosopo (taking) the snaps today... the Jets have an excellent chance at snagging a W. You see, rumor has it that Davis HATES the Jets almost as much as he hates RB Marcus Allen. And, in an effort to prevent Herm's “Gang-Greenous” from being able to draft star-to-be Reggie Bush, Davis would cede the game. RB Curtis Martin has been playing, according to both he and Herm, at LESS than 50%. Week 2 saw Dolphin LB Zach Thomas leg whip Martin, and the veteran Jet hasn't been the same since. Along with Favre, Martin could be mulling retirement... tho Favre is the more likely of the 2 to hang 'em up. Raiduh' RB LaMama' Jordan WILL be interested in punishing the team that gave up on him... his effectiveness will hinge upon Tuiasosopo's effectiveness. Ummm, "Randy, Randy, where for art' thou Randy?"

Al Davis and his Raiders should be under investigation for deliberately throwing this game. Davis, with a well-known distaste for Gang-Green, wanted to see NY’s chances at drafting USC stud-to-be RB Reggie Bush damaged. And, when the team refused to start struggling but experienced QB Kerry Collins … and started “who dat’ Signal Caller” Marques Tuiasosopo instead… eyebrows crawled up foreheads. The Raiders hold no illusions that Tuiasosopo is the QB of the future; no more so than they believe RB Justin Fargas is their future 3-down back. The Gang-Greenous D held a pathetic Oakie’ O to a measly 10 points. Mind you, 7 of which came on an iffy WR Jerry Porter TD catch, fumble, and G-line recovery. There just ain’t much to report here. How bad was this tilt? The two teams’ QBs threw for a COMBINED 234/2/2. Bollinger was “good” for 119/1, Tuiaso-so-so was far less than so-so, tossing 2 picks, 1 TD, and 124 yards. Raider runner LaMont Jordan felt betrayed by his team; he felt that the move to the inexperienced Signal Caller was poorly imagined (it was), and he felt that with 18 total touches and 79 total yards, he was misused (he was). Jet back Curtis Martin was in street clothes during a game for the first time since 1988! Along with C-Mart’s streak of 119 regular season starts went Martin’s quest to become the first runner in history with 11 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. The Canton-bound back’s season ended with 735 rushing yards and 5 TDs. On the VERY down-side of 30 and destined for off-season knee surgery, Martin just may not be in New York’s plans. The best possible scenario for the hobbled runner would be for the Jets to carve a niche similar to that which the St. Louis Rams fashioned for venerable Marshall Faulk. It would be sad to see Curtis Martin ushered out of a Jet Uni’ in such an unfortunate manner. Assuming the feature back duties for the final few… rookie 6th round pick Cedric Houston. Houston racked-up 74 yards and a “6” on 28 carries Sunday, and with an iffy passing game embodied in Brooksy’-boy… look for the rook’ runner to receive a steady diet of work. The Jets face run-vulnerable Miami this week, thus Houston is a solid start. Likewise, with Miami’s 2-headed running back beast of Ricky and Ronnie… LB Jonathan Vilma is a rock-solid IDP play. Al Davis’s Black and Silver sucka-boys oppose Cleveland Sunday, and although the Browns have stiffened up V. the run… I would STILL trot out LaMont Jordan. Keep an eye on the QB situation. If Tuiaso-so-so is over Center again… neither WRs Jerry Porter nor the disappointing Randy Moss are worth starting.

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