It's amazing what questions you get when you just ask

Sometimes, as I'm kicking back and watching the 'The Amazing Race,' I can't help but think: Wow, this really is an amazing race.

And not amazing in the sense that 'Amazing Animal Videos' is amazing, either. It's a cat watching television. Got it.

But I mean, really, truly amazing. The show, if you've never seen it, pits teams of two against one another in a race around the globe. And they really race. One day they're in Iceland, then Sweden, then Senegal. Amazing. They're darting around, frantic and flustered, catching planes and trains and haggling with angry cab drivers. Amazing.

They're scaling cliffs and stacking cured fish (and in my mind, I can hear Peyton Manning chanting 'Stack those fish!'). Amazing.

Not quite as amazing – but with comparable global flavor – is this week's pre-playoff fantasy football Q&A. Questions poured in – OK, trickled in – from all around the world from topics ranging from Ty Willingham's firing at Notre Dame to my take on the Ravens uniforms. But the topic is fantasy football, and we'll stick to that from here on out. No more reality TV references, I promise.

Let's get started. All of these questions were submitted last week, but the following inquiry from Jim in San Jose stands the test of time. He asks: Will Jamal Lewis play this week? Also if he plays will he be close to 100 percent?

I'm speculating here, but I'd put the odds of Lewis playing on Sunday at less than 50 percent. He's got one of those tough-to-predict ankle deals, and the Ravens are going to play it safe. Even if Lewis does suit up this weekend, he figures to play on a limited basis, splitting carries with Chester Taylor. Either way, I wouldn't expect much unless something changes dramatically later in the week. My advice: Leave Jamal on the bench this week and go with Plan B (you should have one, since Lewis has sat out four of Baltimore's 12 games this season). Assuming you can hang around for another week, your reward should be a money-in-the-bank matchup with Indy in Week 15.

Sticking with the injury theme, Sebastian from the Bronx sends this question: I've got Todd Heap on my fantasy team. I've bounced around all season from one bum TE to the next, all the while with Mr. Heap on the bench. I let him go early and picked him back up a few weeks later only to continue sitting him week after week due to injury. When will he play, and how close to 100 percent will he be when he does?

Fortunately for Sebastian and others, Heap's timing is impeccable. Perhaps sensing the gathering fantasy frustration, Heap made his long-awaited return last weekend and looked like his old self. Don't be discouraged by his modest three catches, all in the first half – the Ravens limited him to 25 snaps. The limit will be lifted this weekend and beyond, and he'll go back to being the top option in Baltimore's budding passing attack. A fresh and rested Heap is a great play from here on out.

We'll go global for our next question, sent in by Paul in Seoul, Korea. Paul wonders: Has there ever been a worse year for injuries? It seems like every week we are missing at least four Pro Bowl players.

Paul's asking specifically about the Ravens, who at one time or another this season have been without former Pro Bowlers Heap, Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister and Deion Sanders. I'd say chalk it up to rotten luck, except that guys all over the league are getting banged up this season. Cincinnati has 14 players on injured reserve. Carolina has 11.

Of the running backs that ranked in the top 25 or so on draft day, eight didn't play last week because of injury – Priest Holmes, Lewis, Marshall Faulk, Stephen Davis, Emmitt Smith, Travis Henry, Lee Suggs and Quentin Griffin. Ahman Green played in a flak jacket. Chris Brown lasted little more than a half because of his nagging turf toe. Kevan Barlow and Onterrio Smith also headed to the bench early. And that's just the running backs.

Point is, by Week 14, everybody is feeling the effects of a grueling season. If you've got a reasonably healthy roster, consider yourself lucky.

Next up is Sean in St. Cloud, Fla., who wants to know: Have you had anyone who has Peyton Manning seeming overly concerned about Peyton playing Baltimore in Week 15? It is, after all, our playoff time in fantasy land.

Sean, I'm still trying to figure out what the Houshmandzadeh happened to the Ravens in the fourth quarter against the Bengals. Based on what I saw on Sunday, that defense will have its hands full with Eli Manning, to say nothing of Peyton.

In fairness to Sean, his question came in last week, when the Ravens' pass defense ranked a respectable fourth in the NFL. But no, I don't think Manning's too concerned about facing Baltimore, and you shouldn't be, either. In fact, Manning (who's thrown 29 TDs in his last six games, if you're counting at home) is pretty much a lock to break Dan Marino's single-season TD record against the Ravens. He's four TDs behind Marino's 48 heading into this week's game at Houston.

Our final question comes from Francis in Lagos, Nigeria, the second most-populous city in all of Africa and a coastal location that derives its name from the Portuguese word for "lagoon."

Francis writes: I love football.

While this is more of a statement than a question, I'll allow it because Francis does make a convincing argument. Can't argue with you, buddy. I love it, too. And twins.

Quick hitters

  • Kansas City's Holmes will miss his fourth straight game this week, fueling speculation that the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick in 2004 won't be back this season. The fact that Holmes – who still leads the NFL with 14 rushing TDs – isn't even testing his injured knee at this point doesn't bode well for a return. And, at 4-8, the Chiefs don't have much to play for. K.C. will make do with a backfield combo of Derrick Blaylock and diaper dandy Larry Johnson, who broke out in Week 13 for 118 yards on 20 carries. Add him if you can.

  • Last week I touched on Buffalo's big turnaround, and the corresponding ascent of Willis McGahee. There's a similar scenario playing out in Carolina, where there's no quit in the Panthers and no stopping Muhsin Muhammad or Nick Goings. Muhammad has 462 yards receiving and six touchdowns in the last four games, all Carolina wins. No WR in the game has been a better fantasy play over the past four weeks. Goings, meanwhile, is one of only two backs (along with Edgerrin James) to top 100 yards rushing in each of the past three games. He's been the fourth-best fantasy RB over that time period.

  • A few other notes on recent production. In the past three weeks:

    * Brian Westbrook has scored more points than any other fantasy RB, followed by rookie Julius Jones. Tiki Barber ranks 25th in that span, Deuce McAllister 31st, Faulk 38th.

    * Two receivers from Indianapolis (Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley), Cincinnati (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and Oakland (Ronald Curry, Jerry Porter) all rank in the top 10 in scoring. The combined scoring of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the last three games wouldn't crack the top 20.

    * Peyton Manning has passed for more TDs (13) than David Carr, Michael Vick, Byron Leftwich or Chad Pennington have for the season.

    * Kerry Collins is third in scoring among QBs. Carson Palmer is fourth (with nine TDs and a 71.1 completion percentage), Tom Brady 22nd and Jake Plummer 23rd.

    Starting nod

    Quarterback: Aaron Brooks, New Orleans – Brooks has at least one TD pass in all but one game this season. He catches a break this week against a Dallas defense that gave up 398 passing yards against Seattle on Monday night.

    Running back: Corey Dillon, New England – 100 or more rushing yards in six of his last seven games, and he needed just one carry in the second half to hit 100 on the nose in Week 13. His former team in Cincy, which ranks 31st against the run, doesn't have a chance of stopping him; Julius Jones, Dallas – Off to a great start (five TDs in two games), facing a sorry defense. I like this matchup.

    Wide receiver: Derrick Mason, Tennessee – Facing a K.C. defense that's given up 1,014 passing yards and 6 TDs through the air in its past three games. Drew Bennett hogged all three Titans' TD catches last week. Derrick's due; Antonio Bryant, Cleveland – The Dallas castoff has two TDs and is the first Browns receiver to go over 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games since 1989. The way the Browns' running game is shaping up, he should make it three straight.

    Tight end: Jermaine Wiggins, Minnesota – It'll be touchdowns all around when the Vikes face Seattle's disastrous defense.

    Kicker: Josh Scobee, Jacksonville – Who are we kidding? Just pick a kicker. I just felt like mentioning the 60-yard bomb Scobee kicked at the end of the game last week vs. Pittsburgh. Unbelievable. Would have been more unbelievable if he had made it.

    Defense: Denver – Somebody please explain how the Dolphins scored 32 points last week. No way that happens again.

    Ravens report

    Good news for Heap and Taylor. The Giants have given up four touchdowns to tight ends in their last three games, so a healthy Heap should be good for roughly six catches, 75 yards and a TD. That's a conservative estimate. On the ground, New York has given up two TDs to featured backs in four of its last five games. Chester Taylor is set up for a nice day against the league's 26th-ranked run defense.

    On the flip side, no Giant stacks up favorably against a Ravens defense that has absorbed some well-deserved criticism this week. Jeremy Shockey has 10 catches for 99 yards and 1 TD in three games since Eli Manning took over at quarterback. The lack of a credible passing attack has also hurt Tiki Barber, who's riding a three-game touchdown drought and is coming off his worst outing of the season (15 carries, 38 yards vs. Washington). Amani Toomer? Don't even think about it. But, for a cheap laugh., you can try saying his name like Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop.' Do eet!

    Dave Alexander is a sports producer at baltimoresun.com. Send questions or comments to dalexander@baltimoresun.com
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