Ten most intriguing players of Week 14

Posted Dec. 08, 2010 @ 7:29 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Arian Foster — Foster's owners have been riding the running back's coattails all season, but he now faces a difficult matchup in a pivotal fantasy week: a Monday-night date with the Ravens, whose defense figures to be even more ill-tempered than usual following a costly loss to Pittsburgh last week. This will be the third time this season that Foster has faced a run defense currently ranked in the top 10. He had his worst game of the season against the Giants (No. 7 in run defense) in Week Five, rushing 11 times for 25 yards and catching two passes for two yards. But in Week 11, he ran for two TDs against the Jets (No. 3 in run defense), ran for 84 yards and rolled up 143 yards from scrimmage. In three other games Foster has faced defenses currently ranked in the top half of the league against the run: the Chiefs, Eagles and Colts. He ran for 71 yards and two TDs against the Chiefs. He ran for 83 yards and a TD against the Eagles (and also added a TD catch). He failed to score against the Cowboys but ran for 106 yards. As good as the Baltimore run defense is, there's no way Foster's owners would consider benching him, and his success this season against good run defenses offers hope that he'll be able to do some damage.

2. Sidney Rice — It's hard to imagine that Rice is having any lingering problems with his hip in light of the show he put on last week in Minnesota's easy win over Buffalo. He caught five passes for 105 yards and two TDs, one of them of the circus variety, with Rice wrestling the ball away from multiple defenders while simultaneously performing an acrobatic act along the sideline. There may be some question about which quarterback the Vikings will start against the Giants this week. Brett Favre injured his shoulder on Minnesota's first series against the Bills but will get the nod if healthy enough. If not, it will be Tarvaris Jackson, who threw both TD passes to Rice last week but also threw three interceptions. It may not matter for Rice. Favre helped elevate him to stardom, and Jackson demonstrated that he's willing to force throws to Rice in tight coverage.

3. Knowshon Moreno — As difficult as this season has been for Broncos fans, there are at least two things they can be happy about: (1) the firing of Josh McDaniels, who was about as popular as jock itch in the Denver area; and (2) the burgeoning stardom of Moreno. Less than two months ago, some people were writing off Moreno as a bust. He missed three games with an injury early in the season and was gaining 3.3 yards per carry through the end of October. But ever since the Broncos returned from a Week Nine bye, Moreno has looked like a new man. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry over his last four games. He has had two 100-yard rushing games and three TDs over that span, along with 188 receiving yards. Moreno has an attractive matchup against the Cardinals this week, and it's possible that the coaching change will give the Broncos a morale boost. It's worth noting that the Cowboys and Vikings have played significantly better since the firing of their head coaches.

4. Miles Austin — With Dez Bryant out with a broken fibula, Austin goes back to being the Cowboys' undisputed No. 1 wideout. But Austin frustrated QB Jon Kitna last week by failing to get to a perfectly thrown ball in the corner of the endzone, and then a moment later failing to look for a pass that nearly landed on his noggin. But Austin's talent, and particularly his explosiveness after the catch, is undeniable. He'll also be going up against a leaky Eagles pass defense that has given up 24 TD passes this season, tied for the third-highest total in the league.

5. Jamaal Charles — It's hard to pick nits with a guy who's gaining 126.3 yards from scrimmage per game and 6.2 yards per carry, but c'mon, Jamaal … would it kill you to score a few more TDs? Actually, Charles' season total of four touchdowns easily could be 50 percent higher, but he was stacked up about 10 inches shy of the goal line two weeks ago vs. Seattle on what looked to be a sure TD, and last week he had a short TD run nullified by a penalty. On the bright side, there hasn't been a more reliable yardage guy in fantasy football this season. Charles has six consecutive games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage, and he has hit the 100-yard quota in nine of 12 games this season. Charles faces a good San Diego defense this week, but you might remember that Charles had a 56-yard TD run in a rainy Monday-night game against the Chargers way back in Week One.

6. LeGarrette Blount — The Buccaneers' ball-peen hammer of a running back was excellent last week against the Falcons, rushing for 103 yards and a TD. But Tampa let a late lead slip away and is now a long shot to qualify for the playoffs. If the Bucs have frustrations to take out, they may find willing whipping boys in the Redskins, who seemed to lay down last week in a 31-7 loss to the Giants. The ’Skins were gashed for 197 rushing yards and four rushing TDs in that game, and based on the success that big Brandon Jacobs had (two TD runs and an average of better than 10 yards per carry), one would expect Blount to put up healthy numbers against Washington this week. This game might seem like a vacation to Blount, who has gone against top-10 run defense in three consecutive games and four of his last five.

7. Joe Flacco — The Ravens' young quarterback is quietly having a nice sophomore season and performing consistently for his fantasy owners. His only truly poor game was a 154-yard, four-interception debacle against the Bengals in Week Two. Since then, he has averaged 258.6 passing yards and 1.8 TD passes per game. He has had only one 300-yard passing game over that stretch, but he has had only one sub-200-yard passing game during that time … and he came up only four yards short of 200 in that game. Flacco has a green-light fantasy matchup this week against the Houston pass defense. It's a nice chance for him to redeem himself after the fourth-quarter strip sack that led to a heartbreaking loss to the division-rival Steelers last week.

8. Jonathan Stewart — When Mike Goodson sprained the AC joint in his shoulder last week, Stewart became the Panthers' de facto workhorse, and he responded by rushing for 92 yards and a TD against the Seahawks. That followed a nice performance by J-Stew against the Browns in Week 12: 98 yards on 12 carries. But is it safe for fantasy owners to saddle up Stewart in a critical week? He faces an Atlanta run defense much tougher than the Seattle run defense he just faced. Stewart owners may want to factor in the health status of Goodson, who has talked of playing through the pain this week. It's also possible that Tyrell Sutton, who returned from an ankle injury last week, could steal a few carries.

9. Eli Manning — Manning basically took a vacation last weekend while his running game manhandled the misbegotten Redskins. The Giants won't run the ball so easily in Minnesota this weekend, so Manning will have to go to work against a Vikings secondary that has a few soft spots. There's a chance that he could get either of his two injured wide receivers back. Steve Smith has a better chance to return this week than does Hakeem Nicks, but Manning will take whatever help he can get. Mario Manningham hasn't stepped up in recent weeks, and Derek Hagan is of limited assistance.

10. Vernon Davis — The 49ers are giving Alex Smith his starting job back, which may or may not be a good thing for Davis. The tight end is fresh from a big game against the Packers (four catches for 126 yards and a TD) in which Troy Smith was at the helm for the Niners. But Davis meshed well with Alex Smith last season, with the former No. 1 overall pick starting 10 games in what proved to be a long-awaited breakout season for Davis. This week's matchup is favorable: San Francisco hosts Seattle, and the Alex Smith-to-Davis combo was good for eight receptions and 73 yards against the Seahawks in Week One.