Originally created 12/02/05

Fantasy players to watch, and to avoid, in Week 13



Here's a perfect example of why gridiron purists get so annoyed with fantasy footballers: The best players on the NFL's best team are about to become a major liability in fantasy leagues.

The unbeaten Colts soon could sew up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, probably resulting in statistical disaster in the fantasy postseason for resting stars Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

While sitting them makes perfect sense for a team more concerned with the Super Bowl than a historic quest for perfection, it would be a 2-by-4 to the forehead for fantasy players banking on Colts.

So, in that truly backward fantasy football fashion, Colts owners need to cheer for the team to take a couple of losses and fall back to the pack. They should also shore up the bench, considering what the Colts did once their playoff position was locked in last season.

That was when Jim Sorgi and other backups got in a nice scrimmage in the regular-season finale against Denver, after Manning threw two passes and James ran once for a 2-yard loss. Harrison and Wayne each stuck around long enough to catch TD passes, but you wonder if they would with so much on the line this year.

As you prepare to cheer for and against your Colts, here's a look at some players to start in Week 13, some to avoid and a few long shots who could pan out: ---

QUARTERBACKS

A SAFE BET

- Arizona's Kurt Warner looks like money in the bank against the 49ers' NFL-worst pass defense. Warner has thrown for 600 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games.

- Don't fret about all the interceptions by New England's Tom Brady last week. Three of those picks were tipped balls, and Brady's still the NFL's leading passer on a team with no running game playing the flimsy Jets defense.

- Michael Vick is starting to look like a regular NFL quarterback, although a much faster one. He has two TDs in each of his last three games and an average passer rating of 98.2, which on the Manning scale is below Peyton but above Eli.

- Minnesota's Brad Johnson should have some good numbers against Detroit. As an added bonus, you can actually see good games while monitoring Johnson's stats now that we're past the holiday that forces an entire nation to watch the Lions.

- Washington's Mark Brunell has been quiet lately, but he faces St. Louis' No. 30 pass defense that was shredded by Houston's David Carr last week and has allowed an NFL-worst 23 TDs. TAKE A SHOT

Jacksonville's David Garrard gets the first of at least four starts in place of the injured Byron Leftwich against the soft Browns, the perfect way to ease into the job. BACK AWAY SLOWLY AND NOBODY GETS HURT

Please, in the name of Gary Hogeboom, don't start these guys:

- Rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick is the likely Rams starter and a good free-agent pickup, but don't start him until he strings together a couple of good games. It doesn't take a Harvard man to know the Redskins defense is much tougher than the Texans.

- If your league awards assist points for setting up field goals, by all means start Philadelphia's Mike McMahon.

- Is Oakland's Kerry Collins reverting back to his old statuesque self? Check out his numbers the past three games: 3 touchdowns, 9 turnovers, 12 sacks. ---

RUNNING BACKS ALL DAY LONG

- With four straight 100-yard games, the Chiefs' Larry Johnson is moving into the no-brainer category as a starter. Don't overthink it by benching him against Denver's NFL-best run defense (79.1 yards a game.)

- It's time to pry Baltimore's Jamal Lewis off your bench for a surefire big game. He's coming off his first 100-yard game in 10½ months and faces a Texans defense that's allowing an NFL-worst 158.5 yards a game and has long been flying the white flag.

- Brian Westbrook is the biggest non-kicker beneficiary of Donovan McNabb's absence. He's coming off his first 100-yard game, and he'll rack up points with dump-off passes if the Eagles fall behind the Seahawks.

- Stick with Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson despite the rugged Steelers defense. He's on a roll with two TDs in each of his last two games, and he went for 123 yards and a score last year at Pittsburgh.

- Speaking of the Steelers, Willie Parker hasn't done much since his 131 yards against the Bengals in October. He's in a crowded backfield behind a beat-up line, but only Atlanta, Buffalo and Houston allow more yards per carry than the Bengals' 4.5. HE COULD FIND A SEAM

- DeShaun Foster could find some holes in the soft Falcons run defense in Carolina's odd arrangement that apparently calls for Stephen Davis to start but Foster to do most of the running. RED FLAGS

- Apparently it was Steve Mariucci who couldn't run, block, throw or catch. On the off chance Detroit management was wrong about that, continue to bench Kevin Jones and all other Lions.

- It was kind of a cute statistic when Stephen Davis was averaging a yard or two but still piling up touchdowns. He still gets the short gainers, but they haven't gone into the end zone in any of his 10 carries the past two weeks.

- Buffalo's Willis McGahee is playing like a man who's had major knee surgery, failing to hit the 70-yard mark in four of his last five games and scoring his last TD in mid-October. ---

WIDE RECEIVERS

THROW HIM THE DARN BALL!

- St. Louis' Torry Holt will put up big numbers regardless of who's starting. He's caught 21 passes for 259 yards and two scores in his last two games.

- More evidence that the fantasy football world is backward: We'd all love some Cardinals receivers. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should have big fun against the 49ers' passive pass defense.

- What's gotten into that Amani Toomer? He has a touchdown in three straight weeks for the Giants and five TDS in his past eight. Earlier this season he snapped an 18-game streak without a score.

- Denver's Rod Smith is always solid against Kansas City. He has a TD in his last two games against the Chiefs, and check out his yardage against them since 2003: 80, 75, 76, 85 and 130. Besides, what are the chances of KC shutting down two straight quarterbacks?

- Kansas City's Eddie Kennison is also predictable in the series, with three straight 100-yard games. Plus, he still owes me for his dropped TD against Denver that cost me a win over my lucky brother-in-law. MAYBE THROW HIM THE DARN BALL?

It's still hard to believe the Patriots pass defense is so bad that a Jets player is worth considering. But Justin McCareins scored his first TD of the season last week, and the Jets are certain to be way behind early. SHOW HIM THE DARN BENCH

- The shake-up in Detroit this week means Roy Williams will now be lunging for uncatchable passes from Jeff Garcia, who will now be explaining their uncatchableness to Dick Jauron.

- Whatever happened to New Orleans' Joe Horn? His hamstring's all better, but he hasn't had a touchdown in 2½ months.

- The chances of Minnesota's Marcus Robinson having another three-TD game are slim, considering how Brad Johnson spreads the ball around. ---

TIGHT ENDS TO WATCH NOT NAMED GATES: Randy McMichael (Dolphins), Courtney Anderson (Raiders), Jermaine Wiggins (Vikings), Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs), Jeremy Shockey (Giants).

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DEFENSES TO WATCH: Vikings, Patriots, Bears, Redskins, Ravens.

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KICKERS TO WATCH: Nobody really wants to watch kickers (except maybe the Giants' hard-hitting Jay Feely this week), but here are some anyway: Rian Lindell (Bills), Josh Brown (Seahawks), Paul Edinger (Vikings), Neil Rackers (Cardinals), Jeff Reed (Steelers). ---

WHAT DO I KNOW?

Here's a look at the best and worst of last week's projections:

Big Hits: I expected big things for Warner (315 yards, 2 TDs), the Titans' Steve McNair (3 TDs), Oakland's LaMont Jordan (144 total yards, 2 TDs), Houston's Domanick Davis (120 total yards, TD) and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway (138 yards).

Big Misses: I expected more disaster for Houston's Andre Johnson (159 yards, TD), Brad Johnson (3 TDs) and Green Bay's Samkon Gado (111 yards, TD). I also expected big days for Tom Brady and Brett Favre (171 yards, TD).