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Ten most intriguing players of Week 11

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Peyton Manning — In a week when numerous quarterbacks produced superb numbers, Manning laid a rare egg. He threw for only 185 yards in the Colts' Week 10 victory over the Bengals and failed to throw a single TD pass. Is the lack of available weaponry starting to crimp Manning's style? The ever-reliable Dallas Clark has been absent from Manning's quiver, and Austin Collie was out last week, recovering from a concussion. Perhaps most significant, Manning has been playing without valuable associate Joseph Addai, who not only is a capable pass catcher out of the backfield but also one of the better pass-blocking running backs around. The Colts play an important game against their old rivals the Patriots this Sunday in Foxborough, and a matchup against New England's 30th-ranked pass defense would seem to portend a rebound game for Manning. Bill Belichick hatched some effective plans to slow down Manning once upon a time, but No. 18 lit up the Pats for 327 yards and four TDs in a 35-34 Indy win last season, and Manning hasn't had a truly poor game against the Patriots since the 2004 playoffs.

2. Dwayne Bowe — The Chiefs' blowout loss to Denver last week produced the best single-game totals of Bowe's career: 13 catches, 186 yards and two TDs. Of course, those numbers might not have been so great had the Chiefs not fallen behind 35-0 by the second quarter. But while Bowe's circus numbers were largely circumstantial, there's no denying that he has been ablaze lately. He now has caught eight TD passes in his last five games after scoring only once in his first four games. He's also the only significant weapon among Kansas City's wide receivers (discounting Dexter McCluster, who's really more of a running back), so Bowe figures to have a steady workload for the foreseeable future. The Chiefs face the Cardinals this week, which means that Bowe will get some face time with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC was one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL last season, but he hasn't been himself this year, and the Cards currently rank 27th in pass defense.

3. Keiland Williams — If Redskins fans were able to find a silver lining in Monday night's thrashing of their team at the hands of the Eagles, it was the play of Williams, who scored three TDs and amassed 139 yards from scrimmage. Midway through last week it appeared there was a chance that the Redskins were going to have both of their injured running backs, Clinton Portis and Ryan Torain, back for the game against Philly. But Portis never suited up, and Torain, while technically active for the game, never made it onto the field. Williams' fine performance raises some interesting questions about Washington's RB pecking order. Portis has seniority but not much of a future. Williams deserves another chance to show what he can do. Torain could conceivably be anything from No. 1 to No. 3 on the depth chart once he and Portis are both healthy. But Williams is, by far, the most compelling of the three for the short term, and it will be interesting to see how the ’Skins use him against the Titans this Sunday in Nashville.

4. Cedric Benson — You'd have thought a matchup against the soft Indianapolis run defense would have meant big numbers for Benson, but Ced was a flop last week, carrying 14 times for 24 yards. This week brings another inviting matchup, this one against the Bills, who have yielded a league-worst 166.9 rushing yards per game. If Benson can't capitalize on a second consecutive favorable matchup, the 2-7 Bengals, going nowhere fast, might start considering other options in the running game.

5. Aaron Rodgers — The Packers' Week 10 bye came at a bad time for many of Rodgers' fantasy owners, right on the heels of Rodgers' finest statistical performance of the season. He threw for 289 yards and three TDs in a Week Nine decimation of Dallas, and he added a season-high 41 rushing yards. No doubt that performance drew a "That's more like it!" reaction from the legion of Rodgers owners who had him atop their preseason QB rankings and were disappointed by his mildly sluggish first half of the season. Rodgers will be especially motivated for one final matchup against his former non-mentor, Brett Favre, who never took much interest in his protégé's development when the two were together in Green Bay. The Vikings seem as if they could be on the verge of quitting on head coach Brad Childress, so Rodgers could post some big numbers against a Minnesota defense that might be less than fully inspired.

6. DeSean Jackson — In Week 10, D-Jax hit his fantasy quota on the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, hauling in an 88-yard TD catch. Now he gets a Sunday-night date with a Giants defense that was firebombed last weekend by Jon Kitna and the Cowboys. The Vick-to-Jackson combo has become the most dangerous home-run threat in the NFL. (Jackson is gaining 21.5 yards per catch.) Can they connect on another long ball or two Monday night against the G-Men? Jackson had TD catches of 54 yards and 60 yards against the Giants last season, and in his most recent game against them, in mid-December of last season, D-Jax went off for 178 yards and a score.

7. Frank Gore — When you consider the sort of workhorse Gore has become, it's hard to believe that he tore the ACL in both of his knees during his college career at the University of Miami (Fla.) and was considered by fantasy owners to be an injury risk during his first few seasons as a pro. Gore has been a beast of burden for the 49ers this year. In nine games he has 186 carries and 41 catches, which works out to an average of 25.2 touches per game. High lightest workload of the season was a 22-touch game against the Eagles in Week Five, and he maxed out with a 30-touch effort against Denver in Week Eight. Gore has amassed 1,193 yards from scrimmage and is a good bet to hit 2,000 combined yards for the season. He figures to be heavily utilized again this week when the Niners host the Buccaneers, who rank 31st against the run.

8. Santonio Holmes — After serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Holmes is settling in as the go-to guy for Mark Sanchez, who has thrown the ball quite well over the past two weeks. Holmes has more receptions than any Jet other than LaDainian Tomlinson in those two games, and his 10 catches in that span include a 52-yarder and a 37-yard TD grab. Braylon Edwards is erratic (in more ways than one), Dustin Keller has slowed down after a fast start, and Jerricho Cotchery could be out for a while with a groin injury, so Holmes is the best bet to be Sanchez's main man in the downfield passing game in the weeks to come. Sanchez and Holmes are now tucking their napkins into their jerseys, preparing to dine on the comically hapless Texans pass defense this weekend.

9. Ronnie Brown — Injuries limited Brown to nine games last season, but he was productive in those nine games, rushing for 648 yards and eight TDs. In nine games this season, Brown has 204 fewer rushing yards and five fewer TDs than he had in 2009. But Brown has scored TDs in each of his last two games, and he showed signs of life against the Ravens two weeks ago, rolling up 99 yards from scrimmage, before producing only 11 yards last week against the Titans. Brown's fantasy value could jump now that the Dolphins are without Chad Pennington, who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury last week, and Chad Henne, who's expected to miss a few games with a knee injury. Forced to use third-stringer Tyler Thigpen at quarterback, the Dolphins might run a lot of plays out of the "Wildcat" formation, with Brown as the trigger man. The "Wildcat" had been in mothballs for much of the season, but Miami dusted it off last week and used it with some success in a win over the Titans last week. Brown figures to play a significant role when the Dolphins host the Bears on Thursday night. The Bears have a top-notch run defense, but they don't have much experience defending the "Wildcat."

10. Vince Young — Young didn't start last week because of a lingering ankle injury, but he was forced into action when Kerry Collins sustained a calf injury. Young will be back in the saddle this week against the Redskins, whose pass defense is abysmal. The ’Skins were firebombed by Michael Vick and the Eagles on Monday, and earlier this season they were shredded by Matt Schaub and the Texans for 497 passing yards and three TD passes. Young is charged with getting Randy Moss more involved in the Titans' offense. Moss flopped in his debut with the team last week, catching one pass for 26 yards. With V.Y.'s powerful arm, a Young-to-Moss combination could be potentially devastating, but it also could be a colossal failure. Neither guy is what you'd call a self-starter. Young reportedly missed team meetings and treatment for his ankle in the days leading up to last week's game, and there's no need to rehash the reasons why Moss has played for three different teams this season.

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