by Jeff West
December 19, 2003
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    This weekly article will discuss those players “Heading North” (fantasy value is rising), “Going South” (fantasy value is falling), or “East-West” (fantasy value is still undetermined, but worth watching).

    Welcome to week 16.  This is the week most fantasy leagues have their championship games.  Every owner decision is magnified this time of the year.  One wrong move and you could be watching the fruits of a long, successful season go down the drains.  Many owners have relied on Clinton Portis and Stephen Davis at the RB position to carry them to wins this season.  If you are fortunate enough to have made it to the play-offs with either of these RBs, you are probably pulling your hair out this week.  Both players were injured last week and are questionable for this week.  Portis owners have to deal not only with the Portis injury, but also with Mike Shanahan.  A player could have an amputated leg or a paper cut and Shanahan would still list him as questionable.  The only thing working in Portis owners' favor is the fact that Denver is hanging onto the final AFC wild-card berth and needs a win against Indianapolis this week.  Stephen Davis probably will not play this week since the Panthers won't gain anything by starting him.  It's a tough blow, but grab DeShaun Foster if he is still available.  Another RB who may lead to your undoing this week is Michael Bennett.  He was listed as probable last week, but was deactivated as a game-time decision.

    As we head into week 16, it is often possible to see teams who have locked up a play-off position begin to rest some of the star players.  Only one NFL team has pretty much secured their play-off seeding already and can take a more cautious approach.  The Carolina Panthers are 9-5, two games ahead in the NFC South.  They hold all the tie-breakers against Tampa Bay and New Orleans, both of whom are 7-7 and still dangling by a string for a wild-card berth.  Since Carolina faces Detroit this weekend, they should be able to rest some of their injured players without too much worry.  The Chiefs, Patriots, and Rams have all won their divisions, but are still battling for home-field advantage throughout the play-offs, so they should still be playing at a high level.

    With regular college football behind us, and the BCS bowl debacle ahead, it is time once again for NFL games on Saturday.  This is great for the football fan, but bad for the fantasy owner as line-ups will have to be submitted a day earlier.  (This is especially tough for Portis owners!) Atlanta takes on Tampa Bay in the first game.  Kansas City faces off against Minnesota in what should be an exciting fantasy match-up in game two.  The final game on Saturday pits New England against the New York Jets in an intra-division battle.

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    Carolina has little to play for right now, so their main objective should be to get Stephen Davis healthy again for the play-offs.  If you own DeShaun Foster, this is good news as the Panthers face a weak Detroit team this week.  Detroit is giving back-up QB Mike McMahon an opportunity to play, and if he struggles against the tough Carolina defense, look for Foster to get plenty of chances to run the ball.

    As poorly as the Steelers have played this year, WR Hines Ward has continued to be a beacon of light for fantasy owners.  With Burress not having anywhere near the kind of year most expected, Ward has been able to grab the spotlight, and the touchdowns.  With an upcoming game against San Diego, Ward should continue to shine for his owners.  San Diego has given up 33 touchdown passes already this season, far and away the worst in the league.  With Jerome Bettis questionable, look for Tommy Maddox look to hook up with Ward more than a few times this week.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    Tyrone Calico was one of the more intriguing rookies to enter the league this year.  Many had heard about his Randy Moss-like size and speed, but he came from a small college and had not faced the top competition.  Just earning a spot on the Titans would be challenging.  He had Derrick Mason solidly in the number one position, and two other wideouts battling for a number two position in Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins.  Despite this, Calico was able to earn some playing time and caught a touchdown pass in each of his first two games this season.  In weeks five and six, he posted back-to-back 92-yard receiving games and added his third and fourth touchdowns of the season in weeks eight and ten.  Calico, however, has not caught a pass since week 11.  He hit the wall pretty early, and also fell victim to an emerging McCareins who took a firm grasp of the number two position when Drew Bennett had to battle some nagging injuries.  All in all, Calico had a fine rookie season and showed he'll be a force to contend with in years to come.

    Where'd he go?  A few weeks into the season, Santana Moss began to make Jets fans forget about the loss of Laveranues Coles in the off-season.  He was routinely making big catches and finding the end zone.  Recently, he has been a missing man.  He has seen his receiving yards drop in each of his last three games and has not in the end zone during that time.  This week he faces a studly New England Patriot defense which is near the top of the league in fewest passing yards allowed, fewest passing touchdowns allowed, and most interceptions.  Don't look for much from him this week.

"East-West" – Players whose fantasy value is still undetermined

    The Willis McGahee watch had to wait another week as Buffalo deactivated him before the week 15 game against the Titans.  With the Bills eliminated from play-off contention, he may get his shot this weekend as Miami visits the Great Lakes.  Miami has a fairly stout defensive front which doesn't allow a lot of rushing yards, so McGahee shouldn't be in anyone's starting line-up this week.  But keep an eye on him as he could be an important fantasy player next season.

    The other rookie RB expected to get time last week, Artose Pinner, got nine carries and racked up 26 rushing yards.  Those aren't show-stopping numbers by any means, but Coach Mariucci was impressed with Pinner's ability to run through some tackles and avoid some others.  Pinner also added a 21-yard reception to his efforts.  Pinner should earn more playing time this week, although may find the going a bit tougher as Carolina has a much better rush defense than the Chiefs.

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