Pondering the postseason possibilities

Say so long to Martin Gramatica, Tom Brokaw, that amazing Jeopardy guy, Ken Jennings, and the turkey-induced Thanksgiving semi-coma.

Bring on Julius Jones, endless reruns of 'A Christmas Story,' intolerably long lines at the Best Buy and, well, the leftover turkey-induced December semi-coma.

A new season is upon us, and just in time for the fantasy football postseason.

In a standard fantasy football format, Week 13 generally marks the end of the regular season, with the playoffs contested in Weeks 14-16. This is do-or-die time. Seasons are on the line.

But even after 12 weeks of studying box scores, analyzing matchups and deciphering injury reports, I'll admit to having more questions than answers right now (or are they answers phrased in the form of a question? Think about that for a minute).

For instance, will Priest Holmes, Chris Brown or Todd Heap return in time to make a difference in the fantasy postseason? I have my doubts about all three, whose respective injuries have lingered longer than anyone projected. The conspiracy theorists are popping up in Baltimore, where a 2-4 week speed bump has turned into a 10-week sabbatical for Heap. More on this topic later.

Can the post-bruised sternum Steve McNair be trusted as an every-week fantasy starter? More doubts. The three first-half touchdown passes were encouraging. The three turnovers and postgame retirement talk, not so encouraging.

And what becomes of Jerome Bettis, who has four consecutive 100-yard games and has matched a career high with 11 TDs? He deserves the Fantasy Comeback Player of the Year Award (with apologies to Curtis Martin), but he's going back to sharing time with the now-fit Duce Staley.

For some more definitive insight, we turn to everybody's favorite tailback-turned-holistic hippie. Ricky Williams, who's shacking up somewhere in Northern California and looking an awful lot like Mr. T these days, had this to say in a recent interview with a writer from Sports Illustrated:

"There's so much stimuli coming at you in this world, and all of it combines to distract people from what is true and pure and real," Ricky said. "One day I woke up and I realized that I was part of the distraction."

Right on.

"At least I quit before all the fantasy drafts," he added. "Let's face it – if I'd quit after the drafts, the fans would all hate me."

For those who are too legit to quit, best of luck this week and beyond. Get those rosters set and get ready for the most wonderful time of the fantasy year.

Also, submit your questions – preferably about fantasy football, though I'll consider inquiries regarding eggnog recipes, modern American literature and recent episodes of 'Trading Spouses' – and check back next week for a pre-playoff fantasy Q&A.

Quick hitters

  • I'm not sure which is more surprising: Browns backup QB Kelly Holcomb throwing five touchdowns in his first start of the season, or Holcomb throwing five TDs – and the Browns losing. Is it any wonder Butch Davis is looking for work?

    Holcomb ranked second in fantasy scoring last week (behind – who else? – Peyton Manning) with his five TDs. Jeff Garcia – the player signed to replace Holcomb – threw in 10 games. With Garcia out or at least two more weeks, maybe longer, Holcomb was a popular pickup earlier in the week. But it looks like he's one and done this year after being diagnosed with cracked ribs. Bring on Luke McCown, who has the privilege of facing the Patriots in his first career start.

  • Those who tuned in to ESPN on Sunday night got a Mile High surprise – and I'm not talking about the snow. Not only did Raiders receiver Jerry Porter catch three TD passes in less than ideal playing conditions, he did it against one of the league's top shut-down corners, Champ Bailey. This from a guy who had three TDs total in his past 25 games.

    Porter, who plans to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, made some eyebrow raising comments last week about using this year's remaining games to audition for the NFL's 31 other teams. With Kerry Collins finally getting a good grasp of the Oakland offense, Porter's definitely worthy of a short-term role on your fantasy team. If he's a free agent in your league, sign him up immediately.

  • The irrelevant injury of the week goes to Buffalo backfield afterthought Travis Henry, whose leg was broken on Sunday, then miraculously not broken on Monday. Does it matter? Since Willis McGahee took over the starting running back role in Week 8, the Bills have averaged 28.2 points per game, up from 12.8 in Weeks 1-7. McGahee has run for seven touchdowns in his five starts, matching the number of rushing TDs Buffalo had in its previous 18 games. McGahee ranks fourth in fantasy scoring among running backs over the last four weeks, behind Domanick Davis, Michael Pittman and LaDanian Tomlinson.

  • A pointless point of clarification: Josh Scobee is a rookie placekicker for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Josh Scobey is the Arizona Cardinals' backup running back. Scooby-Doo is a crime-solving cartoon pooch with an insatiable craving for Scooby Snacks. Zoinks!

  • There are a handful of short-term running back options this week for desperate teams in deep leagues. In San Francisco, Maurice Hicks is taking time away from Kevan Barlow, who says he feels limited by the Niners' bland offense. Funny, the play-calling hasn't hampered Hicks, a midseason practice squad call up who's averaging 4.6 yards per carry. His 34 touches in the last three games make him worth taking a chance.

    Larry Croom will start in Arizona in place of Emmitt Smith, who's out for 2-3 weeks. Croom gained an unimpressive 25 yards on 10 carries when pressed into action last week, but he's got favorable matchups coming up against Detroit, San Francisco and St. Louis. You could do worse.

    Lastly, Justin Fargas has recovered from the dreaded turf toe and is expected to split time in the Oakland backfield with Amos Zereoue this week, with Zach Crockett taking short-yardage carries. Tyrone Wheatley is listed as questionable. I'm high on Fargas, but this sounds suspiciously like a backfield-by-committee approach, rendering all involved nearly worthless in the fantasy world. But with an enticing matchup against the Chiefs this week, consider a flier on Fargas or Zereoue.

  • Consider adding – Green Bay RB Najeh Davenport, Kansas City RB Larry Johnson, Washington RB Ladell Betts, Buffalo WR Lee Evans, Oakland WR Ronald Curry, Tennessee TE Erron Kinney, Buffalo defense; Consider dropping – Detroit QB Joey Harrington, Chicago RB Anthony Thomas, Oakland RB Wheatley, Arizona RB Smith, San Francisco WR Brandon Lloyd, Minnesota WR Nate Burleson.

    Ravens report

    It's crunch time for Heap, who's been a week away from returning for, oh, the past six weeks or so. My advice – if you've stuck with him this long, hang in there for one more week. Maybe I'm being optimistic – I can afford to be, since I don't own Heap in any leagues – but something tells me this is the week the Ravens Pro Bowl tight end gets back on the field. It's just a hunch, but not a baseless one.

    Heap ran and made cuts using his injured ankle in practice last week, a first since he went down in Week 2. He was listed as questionable and said to be a game-time decision, also a first, though he was held out on a miserable, muddy day when no sane coach would have dared to play him. But this week, with no rain in the forecast and the Ravens at home in a must-win game, would be a fine time to Brian Billick to begin easing Heap back into the lineup. For fantasy purposes, keep Heap on the bench for one more week, and make sure you have another TE option heading into the playoffs. (Note: An exception can be made for the Mumbling Masses of Federal Hill, who are 11-0-1 despite starting Heap in every game this season. I guess when you have Peyton Manning, you can afford to do that.)

    Considering the opponent and the conditions, I wouldn't read too much into the offense's Foxboro flop last week. In fact, owners of Travis Taylor or Clarence Moore can take heart in the fact in the Ravens' play-calling, which featured plenty of passing. As for the running game, the progress of Jamal Lewis should be closely monitored this week as he recovers from a bum ankle. He's probably going to be a game-time decision. Chester Taylor will start if Lewis can't go. Whoever lines up on Sunday figures to have a big day against Cincinnati's 30th-ranked run defense.

    Fresh off a 58-point out-of-character outburst, the Bengals' offense suddenly has some serious fantasy appeal. Rudi Johnson ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns, Chad Johnson had 117 yards and a TD, and even T.J. Houshmandzadeh had a couple of scores (his first of the season). So what does it all mean? Just like the Ravens' meltdown in the mud, not much. Johnson and Johnson remain every-week starters, with Houshmandzadeh a tempting flex-position option at best. But temper your expectations for Week 13.

    Rudi Johnson has run for 100 or more yards seven times previously in his career, and only once has he backed it up with more than 62 yards the next week. He gained a respectable 98-yard effort against Baltimore earlier this season but has no TDs in four career games against the Ravens. Chad Johnson, who has given Baltimore problems throughout his career, seems to be heating up with TDs in two straight games and Houshmandzadeh had a career-best 116 receiving yards against the Ravens in Week 3. But their chances of getting into the end zone this week are slim – Baltimore has given up two passing TDs in its last six games.

    Dave Alexander is a sports producer at Send questions or comments to

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