Many are undoubtedly kicking themselves for their decision yesterday not to start Eagles’ RB Brian Westbrook and (to a lesser extent) QB Donovan McNabb. Don’t. And the Sherpa writes this as someone who has both Westbrook and McNabb on his fantasy team this year and decided to bench both of them this week.
Yes, that’s a lot of points to leave on the bench, but in fantasy football, especially at this time of year, risk avoidance is key, and benching both Westbrook and McNabb this week was the smart decision (assuming you had reasonable alternatives on your bench). Westbrook was listed as Questionable with knee and ankle injuries coming into this game, as he was the last several weeks. McNabb had suffered through a string of several subpar games, there was no way of knowing how his benching last Sunday against the Ravens was going to affect him, and most importantly, his top offensive weapon (Westbrook) was a big question mark.
It’s easy to point to the result and use that as the basis for second-guessing the decision, but that’s a fruitless exercise since it’s based on a meaningless sample size of one. Forget Westbrook’s lousy performance against a very strong Ravens’ Defense last Sunday - he would have been hard pressed to turn in a good performance even if he had been at 100%. The week before against the Bengals Westbrook also laid an egg (and don’t get me started on Reggie Bush’s will he/won’t he routine the last few weeks!). Thus, given his recent performance (or lack thereof) and his injury status, benching Westbrook this week was a logical decision. Of course, the most carefully reasoned decisions don’t always work out - accept it and move on.
Here are some thoughts on games and players for Week 13’s Sunday & Monday contests:
Carolina at Green Bay - Considering some of the marquee names on both teams (e.g. - Steve Smith, Greg Jennings), this game offers little in the way of recommended fantasy options for this week. Carolina figures to have a hard time throwing against the Packers’ Defense, while Green Bay figures to have a hard time doing anything against the Panthers’ Defense. The only Panthers I’d recommend as starters this week are RB DeAngelo Williams and the Defense. The only Packer I’d recommend starting this week is TE Donald Lee.
Baltimore at Cincinnati - The Bengals may well win a second game this season, but this won’t be it. The Ravens figure to have a field day against the Bengals, and QB Joe Flacco, RBs Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain (Probable - thigh), & Ray Rice, TE Todd Heap (Probable - illness), WR Derrick Mason (Probable - shoulder), K Matt Stover, and the Defense should all be started this week. Normally, I’d recommend Bengals’ WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a starting option, but even though the Bengals will probably be forced to throw 40+ times in this game, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will probably face a relentless Ravens’ pass rush that won’t give him enough time to find Houshmandzadeh often enough to make him worth starting.
San Francisco at Buffalo - I’m not as impressed by Buffalo’s Defense as others appear to be; conversely, I’m much more optimistic than others about the fantasy prospects of the 49ers’ players this week. QB Shaun Hill, RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis, WRs Bryant Johnson & Isaac Bruce, and K Joe Nedney are all worth starting. I don’t see the Bills being able to run much against the 49ers’ Defense, but the passing game is another story - QB Trent Edwards, TE Robert Royal, and WRs Lee Evans & Josh Reed are all start-worthy.
Indianapolis at Cleveland - Another apparent mismatch in a weekend that seemingly contains more than its fair share. After starting the season 3-4, the Colts have won four games in a row to improve their record to 7-4 and figure to be favored in at least four of their last five games. While backup QB Jim Sorgi may not get to play his customary game or two at the end of the season in relief of starting QB Peyton Manning, not too many fantasy owners will mind. Manning, RB Joseph Addai, TE Dallas Clark, WRs Reggie Wayne (if he decides to show up), Marvin Harrison, & Anthony Gonzalez, K Adam Vinatieri, and the Colts Defense should all be in starting lineups this week. In a strange twist of fate QB Brady Quinn is out for the season (finger injury on his throwing hand) while Head Coach Romeo Crennel retains his job for at least another week. QB Derek Anderson once again takes over the Browns’ Offense, but keep him as far away from your fantasy starting lineup as possible. The only Browns worth starting this week are RB Jamal Lewis and TE Kellen Winslow (Probable - shoulder).
New Orleans at Tampa Bay - Another game where I’m going against the grain and urging you to avoid starting any Saints - yes, that’s right, any (yes, that includes QB Drew Brees and RB Reggie Bush (Questionable - knee)!). Tampa Bay has a strong all-around Defense, and as I wrote above, your primary goal as a fantasy football team owner at this point in the season is to avoid risk. Tampa’s Offense doesn’t impress me much - keep in mind that 14 of the 38 points they put up last weekend against the Lions came courtesy of scores by their Defense. Accordingly, RB Warrick Dunn is the only Buccaneer I’d recommend starting.
NY Giants at Washington - In another counterintuitive recommendation, I’d stay away from all of the Giants’ players this week. Washington’s Defense is underrated - they’ve given up no more than 24 points in a game this season, and the Giants will be hard-pressed to top that total. As with Eagles’ RB Brian Westbrook, I’d advise against starting Redskins’ RB Clinton Portis (Questionable - knee) this week - he’s just not worth the risk if you have healthier options you can start in his place. The only Redskin I’d start this week is TE Chris Cooley.
Miami at St. Louis - The Dolphins were outgunned last week by Matt Cassel and the Patriots, but this game seems designed to get them back into the win column. Dolphins’ QB Chad Pennington has been one of the best surprises in fantasy football this season - Pennington, RBs Ronnie Brown & Ricky Williams, TEs Anthony Fasano & David Martin, WRs Ted Ginn & Davone Bess, and K Dan Carpenter should all be in starting lineups this week. Rams’ RB Steven Jackson is once again listed as Questionable with his thigh injury - once again, keep him out of your fantasy lineup this week (see above: Westbrook, Brian and Portis, Clinton). I’d also advise against starting QB Marc Bulger, who’s listed as Probable in spite of a concussion. I wouldn’t be surprised to see backup QB Trent Green, who knows a few things about concussions himself, play significant minutes in this game. Regardless of who the Rams’ QB is, expect them to get the ball to WRs Torry Holt & Donnie Avery, both of whom are worth starting.
Denver at NY Jets - Broncos’ RB Peyton Hillis has come a long way in 12 months. This time last year he was the third option in Arkansas’ backfield, behind future first round draft picks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Now, Jones is done for the season in Dallas, McFadden is finally healthy but still sharing carries with Justin Fargas in Oakland, and Hillis is the featured back in Denver (which is a bit like being the starting WR on a team that runs the wishbone). While Hillis is a heartwarming story, he doesn’t belong in your fantasy lineups this week facing an imposing Jets’ run Defense. Denver may pass 45-50 times in this game, and QB Jay Cutler, TE Tony Scheffler, and WRs Brandon Marshall & Eddie Royal all belong in starting lineups. Jets’ QB Brett Favre hasn’t been asked to throw the ball as often this season as he did in his Packers’ days, but he’s still worth starting against a poor Broncos’ Defense, as are RBs Thomas Jones & Leon Washington, TE Dustin Keller, WRs Laveranues Coles (Questionable - thigh) & Jericho Cotchery (Probable - shoulder), and K Jay Feely.
Atlanta at San Diego - This game gets the Sherpa’s vote for most entertaining, highest scoring matchup of the weekend. Both teams feature explosive RBs (even if LaDainian Tomlinson hasn’t really played up to his first pick status this season), first-rate aerial attacks, and suspect Defenses. Put it all together, and 65-70 combined points isn’t out of the question. Falcons who should be started include QB Matt Ryan, RBs Michael Turner & Jerious Norwood, WRs Roddy White (Questionable - back) & Michael Jenkins, and K Jason Elam. Chargers worth starting include QB Philip Rivers, Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, WRs Chris Chambers & Vincent Jackson, and K Nate Kaeding.
Kansas City at Oakland - As with the Bills, I’m not as impressed with the Raiders’ pass Defense as others are. Chiefs’ QB Tyler Thigpen has been another pleasant surprise this season, and he should be started this week, along with RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, WRs Dwayne Bowe & Mark Bradley (Questionable - calf), and K Connor Barth. Of course, the Chiefs’ Defense will offer little to no resistance, making Raiders’ QB JaMarcus Russell, RBs Justin Fargas & Darren McFadden, TE Zach Miller, WR Ronald Curry, and K Sebastien Janikowski good starts this week.
Pittsburgh at New England - Steelers’ RB Willie Parker (Questionable - knee) is Exhibit E this week in the litany of injured RBs to keep out of your starting lineup (along with Westbrook, Portis, Jackson, & Bush). New England’s pass Defense has been exposed the past two weeks by the Jets and the Dolphins - expect the Steelers to continue that trend this week. Steelers’ QB Ben Roethilisberger, TE Heath Miller, & WRs Hines Ward & Santonio Holmes are all worth starting this week, as is the Steelers’ Defense. The host Patriots figure to be in for a long day on Offense - the only starter I’d recommend is TE Ben Watson.
Chicago at Minnesota - When these two teams met in Chicago on Oct 19th, the result was a Bears’ victory in a 48-41 shootout. I expect the same outcome this week in a much lower scoring game. QB Kyle Orton, TE Greg Olsen, WRs Rashied Davis, Brandon Lloyd, & Devin Hester, and the Bears’ Defense should all be started. I expect the Vikings to have a difficult time moving the ball by ground or air (making them the anti- FedEx) - the only starter I’d recommend is TE Visanthe Shiancoe.
Jacksonville at Houston - If Jaguars’ QB David Garrard (Questionable - back) is well enough to play Monday night, this game could also be an entertaining shootout. Garrard, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, TE Marcedes Lewis, WRs Matt Jones & Reggie Williams, and K Josh Scobee should all be started. Texans’ QB Sage Rosenfels, RB Steve Slaton, TE Owen Daniels, WRs Andre Johnson & Kevin Walter, and K Kris Brown are all start-worthy options as well.
Once again, you’ll notice I’ve recommended a lot of players this week (non-RBs!) who are listed as Questionable - as always, be sure to check the official injury reports closer to game time to avoid incurring an unnecessary goose egg in your lineup.
Good luck this week!