by Jeff West
December 27, 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).

    Week sixteen saw most fantasy leagues crown a champion.  In my primary league, I fell to defeat after losing Clinton Portis a week ago.  I grabbed Thomas Jones and Onterrio Smith off waivers as soon as possible, and assuming that Portis would not play, tapped Jones as my second running-back as he seemed to be a safer pick than Smith who would be backing up Michael Bennett and sharing leftover carries with Moe Williams.  I also continued to start Trent Green at quarterback despite some strong urges to play my back-up, Tommy Maddox, based purely on a favorable match-up.  But I succumbed to that old "dance with the ones that brought you" adage and played it safe and lost.  That's one of the great things about fantasy football... no matter how carefully you analyze everything and how thoroughly you research your decisions, there are factors beyond the reach of the fantasy owner that will determine winners and losers.

    It was a sad weekend as Irvin Favre, the father of Brett Favre, died suddenly and unexpectedly late Sunday afternoon.  Brett was scheduled to play an important Monday night game against the Raiders, but Coach Mike Sherman gave Favre the opportunity to take care of family business and miss the game should he choose.  Favre decided to play the game as his father, Favre's high school football coach, would've wanted it that way.  Anyone could understand if his mind was elsewhere and his game suffered as a result, but Favre came out from the start and showed why he is headed to the Hall of Fame when his playing days are done.  Favre finished the game with nearly 400 passing yards and four touchdowns.  In his last two games, Favre has thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception.  A marquee week 17 game against Denver looms in the Packers' drive to a play-off berth.

    Kudos to Jamal Lewis who, for the second time in the season, put up more than 200 rushing yards against the Browns.  (O.J. Simpson is the only other back in NFL history to rush for 200 yards or more twice against the same opponent in one season.) In most drafts Lewis was a second-round pick, as many doubted his ability to stay healthy.  Not only has he stayed healthy, but he can break the single-season rushing record with 154 yards next week against Pittsburgh.

    If your fantasy league still has some unfinished business, i.e., a league crown, in week 17, then there is some good news for you.  Only the Carolina Panthers have the option of resting players this weekend.  The Panthers won their division and are locked into the third or fourth seed and a home play-off game regardless of their performance Sunday against the Giants.  This should ensure that Stephen Davis rides the bench for yet another week as DeShaun Foster filled in nicely in week 16.  Every other NFL team still alive for the play-offs is either fighting to make it into the post-season, or fighting for home-field advantage, so there shouldn't be any players riding the bench for the last regular-season game of 2003.

"Heading North" – Players whose fantasy value is rising

    If you are looking for a running back who can get those tough December yards, take a chance with Antowain Smith.  He has racked up 62 carries in the past three games and topped it off with a 121-yard effort against the Jets in week 16.  Buffalo has been fairly stout against running backs this season and are currently ranked seventh in the NFL against the run, but New England will look to pound the ball in this cold, late-December battle.

    Anthony Thomas should break 1000 rushing yards for the season in his week 17 game against the Chiefs.  A-Train is back on track with 220 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.  The Bears are looking to end the season with a .500 record and should look to run the ball extensively against a weak Kansas City rushing defense.  The Bears could be unveiling a promising offensive team for years to come with Grossman at QB, Thomas and Forsey at RB, Clark at TE, and Booker, White, Gage, and Wade at WR.

"Going South" – Players whose fantasy value is slipping

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if Drew Bledsoe was able to return to New England and end the Patriots' 11-game win streak?  Bledsoe has had a horrendous season for Buffalo.  He is throwing for 185 yards a game and has only thrown 11 touchdown passes all season.  It would be a wonderful ending, but it won't happen.  Bledsoe, who should be happy that his Boston mansion finally sold (to Curt Schilling) after a year and a half, could end the season with one of his worst games to date.  Bledsoe will probably be back in Buffalo next year because the Bills are a good-enough team to compete for a play-off berth and don't have a better option at QB right now.

    Remember all the hype surrounding David Boston when it was announced he signed with San Diego?  Some people were talking about Boston in the same breath as Moss, Harrison, and Owens.  Those people, who probably drafted him in the second or third round when receivers like Chad Johnson, Torry Holt, and Hines Ward were still available, should be kicking themselves now.  Boston did have two great games this season.  He added another three or four that were good, but far too many of them looked like the two-catch, nine-yard performance he put up against the Steelers in week 16.  Amazingly, with one more "great" game against the Raiders in week 17, the (only) 25 year-old Boston could reach 1000 yards for the season.  If he does, expect everyone to forget reality and jump on the Boston bandwagon against next draft season.

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

    It is probably too late in the season to keep an eye on rising fantasy players for 2003, but some are getting some playing time now in preparation for 2004 and beyond.

    In an important week 16 game for the Titans, rookie RB Chris Brown made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 69 yards on ten carries.  Eddie George, who turned 30 years old in September, still led the team with 79 rushing yards in the game.  But Brown, who showed he has break-away ability as he rumbled for 28 yards on carry, should be a larger part of the Titan offense in 2004 and warrants some fantasy attention.

    Chicago rookie QB Rex Grossman has led the Bears to wins over Minnesota and Washington in his only two starts this season.  His first start was a shaky one, completing less than half his passes and not throwing for any touchdowns.  In his second start, he was able to complete nearly 60% of his passes for almost 250 yards and two touchdowns.  The Bears have lauded his leadership ability and his unflappable nature while in the pocket.  Grossman appears to have a solid future in the NFL and as a fantasy QB.

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