Bad teams make good on Monday night

It was closing in on 1 a.m. EST Tuesday – long after the clock had struck midnight on my season – when Tennessee's hook-and-lateral gone wrong turned into a gift-wrapped touchdown for Kansas City's Kawika Mitchell.

And somewhere, some poor guy lost a fantasy playoff game.

Just a few hours earlier, someone on the radio lamented the meaninglessness of the Monday night matchup between the Chiefs and Titans. Turned out to be the best bad football game of the season.

Meaningless? Tell that to my man Aaron in Raleigh, who writes: There's nothing quite like building a 28-point lead going into Monday night, only to watch Drew Bennett get 233 yards and three scores and hand you a loss.

Well, ain't that a kick in the pants.

But take heart, Aaron – you're not alone. There are thousands of fantasy ballers out there who had the good sense to start Bennett, Larry Johnson, Billy Volek or Eddie Kennison – and thousands more who had the misfortune of facing the aforementioned owners with good sense. I also like to think that Lawrence Tynes' garbage-time PAT brought glory to some charmed team.

What I want to know is, where's my Music City Miracle? I needed Derrick Mason to put up Bennett numbers. I needed Johnson to fumble – about six times. I needed a QB with a pulse.

Instead I got a one-way ticket to the losers' lounge and a humbling reminder that no matter how much desktop expertise you think you have when it comes to fantasy football, there's nothing like good old-fashioned luck.

For further proof, consider this: The three top-scoring quarterbacks in the NFL last week were Volek, Kyle Boller and Ken Dorsey. And so it goes.

For those who still have something to play for, good luck in Week 15 and beyond.

As for me, I'm hoping to cause a racket in the consolation bracket.

Quick hitters

  • Looking for a playoff week pickup? Monday night's game showcased four of the best.

    Volek has at least two TDs in five of his six starts and has tossed seven scores in the past two games; Bennett has been on the receiving end of six of those passes.

    The Chiefs' Kennison has reached the end zone six times in the past five weeks after not scoring in his team's first eight games, and Johnson, who put up 104 yards and two TDs on seven attempts vs. the Titans, will make his first career start this week against Denver. Johnson's got fresh legs and an outstanding offensive line to run behind. He should be owned in all leagues and started in most.

  • In another backfield turnabout, Maurice Hicks has replaced Kevan Barlow as the starting RB in San Francisco. Hicks went for 136 yards and a touchdown last week, but it took 34 carries for him to put up those numbers, and he did it against Arizona. I'm not real high on him looking ahead at a schedule that wraps up with three top-five run defenses (Washington, Buffalo and New England).

  • Tough break for the Falcons' T.J. Duckett, who followed up a four-TD game by having surgery to clean up cartilage in his knee earlier this week. The bruising back should only miss one game, but he's got almost no fantasy appeal at this point. Drop him. And with lead blocker Justin Griffith done for the season as well, I'd think hard about starting Warrick Dunn. The veteran had six touchdowns in Atlanta's first five games; he has one is eight games since.

  • Don't overlook Cincinnati QB Jon Kitna, who looks like a good bet to start this week in place of Carson Palmer (knee). Kitna threw for 126 yards and a TD in relief of Palmer last week, and he was the eighth-rated fantasy QB last season – better than Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger and a whole bunch of others.

    Starting nod

    Quarterback: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia – Terrell Owens danced on the star back in the day, but it's McNabb who really owns the Cowboys. He's thrown three TDs in each of his last three home games against Dallas and dropped four scores on the Cowboys in a Monday nighter back in Week 10. Remember that silly scramble and heave completion he made that night? Yeah. Dallas doesn't have a chance.

    Running back: Kevin Jones, Detroit – Jones has more rushing yards in his last three games (451) than any other player in the league. He's reached the 100-yard mark in three of four games for a team that had three 100-yard rushing efforts in 41 games before that. Curtis Martin, New York Jets – C-Mart has showed signs of slowing down of late, but that shouldn't matter against Seattle's sorry defense. The Seahawks have given up an average of 404 yards and 34.6 points in their last three games.

    Wide receiver: Torry Holt, St. Louis – He's put up better than 100 yards per game in five career meetings with the Cardinals, which makes you wonder: If San Fran's Cedrick Wilson can go for 83 yards and two TDs against Arizona, what's Holt going to do? T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati – T.J. had 12 catches last week, two fewer than the number of letters in his last name. In a three-week span, he's got 26 grabs for 397 yards and three TDs. Ride him while he's hot.

    Tight end: Chris Cooley, Washington – The Redskins don't do much right on offense, but when they do, this guy usually has something to do with it. Plug him in, if only to have a reason to watch the 'Skins-Niners matchup on Saturday.

    Kicker: Ryan Lindell, Buffalo – He's nothing special with only one field goal from beyond 40 yards all season. But the way the Bills are scoring – 37-plus points in four straight – he's got a lot of value.

    Defense: Chicago – A slumping Houston offense heads north to face a gritty Bears defense in mid-December. Hope for snow.

    Ravens report

    The Ravens slipped Jamal Lewis into their starting backfield last week, and the team came away feeling good about Lewis' health. On the flip side, panicky fantasy players who plugged Lewis into the lineup at the last second were hung out to dry with 32 rushing yards and no second-half carries.

    But don't expect a repeat performance this week. Lewis will return to a near full-time role, and he should be able to put up some nice numbers with 20 or so carries against the Colts. Chester Taylor has earned an increased role, too, with 243 rushing yards in the past two games. But as a change-of-pace guy, he's only good for 8-12 attempts at best, making him a poor fantasy play.

    Two guys I really like this week are Todd Heap and – don't laugh – Boller. Heap appeared fit and ready to roll in his second game back from an ankle injury, and his two TDs were a nice payoff for patient owners. And Boller, he of the four- TD game and budding confidence, looks like a decent, if chancy, play against the Colts' 28th-ranked pass defense. A healthy Heap helps open up the passing game, so Boller shgould toss at least a couple of scores. One guy I'd be wary of is Clarence Moore – not saying I don't like him, not saying don't play him. But rookie receivers tend to be inconsistent, and after last week's highlight-reel game, this game has three catches-25 yards-no TDs written all over it.

    Enough with the Ravens – this is Peyton Manning's night. He's going to break the record in prime time on ESPN, and there's not much Baltimore can do about it. The good news? The return of Deion Sanders pretty much guarantees the secondary won't get embarrassed the way it did a few weeks back against the Bengals. If the Ravens can put some heat on Manning – he's only been sacked nine times all season – they might even be able to coax a few turnovers out of the Colts.

    But with Manning making a pass at the record books, everybody gets in on the act – Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley (careful – he's listed as questionable), even Dallas Clark. And don't forget about Edgerrin James, who quietly leads the league in rushing yards. Don't even think about benching any of the Colts' big guns, even though Baltimore's defense is the best they've faced all season. There will be plenty of points put up in this one – the perfect nightcap to a pivotal week of fantasy playoffs.

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