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Ten most intriguing players of Week Five

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Julio Jones — This is why the Falcons gave up a bevy of draft picks to maneuver into position to get Jones, right? The Falcons have a return date with the Packers, whose last visit to Atlanta ended about as well for residents of that fair city as General William Tecumseh Sherman's last visit. (Actually, historians believe that Sherman and his troops were relatively merciful toward Atlanta, saving the true fury of their wrath for Columbia, S.C., since South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union and was seen as much more of a Civil War agitator than Georgia … but never mind.) The thinking of Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff in paying such a steep price to land Jones seemed to be that if he couldn't quickly build a defense capable of slowing down Rodgers and the Packers (or Drew Brees and the Saints for that matter), then he'd attempt to match their offensive firepower. Jones began his rookie season sluggishly but quickly has gotten up to speed, with 17 catches for 242 yards in his last two games. Atlanta might need a third consecutive big game out of Jones in exchanging haymakers with Green Bay, whose normally staunch defense is giving up 335.8 passing yards per game. Perhaps Jones will even make his maiden voyage into an NFL endzone.

2. Arian Foster — Foster's balky hamstring obviously wasn't an issue last week, when Foster owners (the ones who started him, at least) were rewarded for their patience with 155 rushing yards and a TD against an unexpectedly toothless Steelers defense. Foster carried the ball 30 times against Pittsburgh, and another heavy workload would seem to be in the offing for this week, since the Texans will be facing the Raiders without star WR Andre Johnson, who sustained a hamstring injury of his own last week, and could also be without Ben Tate, who has a groin injury. QB Matt Schaub didn't complete a single pass to a wide receiver after Johnson went down, so it's a safe assumption that Foster will be a principal component of Houston's offensive blueprint for this weekend.

3. Matthew Stafford — No matter which NFL team you support, you have to feel at least a little happy for Lions fans, don't you? With apologies to Browns supporters, no NFL fan base has had as little to get excited about during the big-money era of professional football than Lions fans. And now, finally, these poor souls have a team they can get excited about. How excited? We'll find out on Monday, when the Lions' long exile from "Monday Night Football" (they haven't appeared since 2001) finally comes to an end. Detroit fans are sure to be in full throat when the 4-0 Lions host the division-rival Bears. For a while it was starting to look as if Stafford was just another cruel joke being played on Lions fans: a No. 1 overall draft pick whose shoulder kept coming out of place. But now a healthy Stafford is leading the Lions into what appears to be a new era of prosperity. He already has thrown for 1,217 yards and 11 TDs and is looking like one of the best half-dozen quarterbacks in the league. It will be fun to see how Stafford handles himself on a big stage. It also will be fun for us, since two of the last three Monday-night matchups have been dreadful.

4. Tom Brady — Well, we knew he wasn't going to throw for 300-plus yards and three or more TDs every week, and Brady finally turned in what for him is considered a clunker: 226 passing yards and two TDs last week in a ho-hum victory over the Raiders. Now, Brady must face the Jets, who rank second in passing yards allowed and have yielded a league-low two TD passes. But Brady has turned in some solid numbers against the Jets during Rex Ryan's two seasons in command of the Patriots' archrivals, averaging 279.8 passing yards and 1.8 TD passes over five games, including last year's playoff loss to Ryan's crew. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the Jets endeavor to lock down Brady's favorite target, Wes Welker, and also to see how often the Patriots try to run the ball this Sunday in Foxborough with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley.

5. Mario Manningham — Is Manningham playing for his spot in the Giants' starting lineup this week? Regarded by many fantasy owners as a top-25 receiver entering the season, Manningham is now struggling to maintain his starter status, with Victor Cruz applying the pressure. Manningham sustained a concussion in Week Two, missed Week Three, then was benched mid-game in Week Four, finishing with one 10-yard reception. Cruz, meanwhile, has caught nine passes for 208 yards and two TDs over the Giants' last two games and is looking like the sort of big-play threat who can divert defensive attention away from star WR Hakeem Nicks. In other words, Cruz is looking like the sort of player the Giants thought they had in Manningham. It might take a solid performance against the Seahawks for this week for Manningham to preserve his rapidly fading fantasy value.

6. Darren Sproles — Who would have imagined that Sproles would be a more valuable offensive addition for the Saints this past offseason than former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram? So far, Sproles has gained 358 yards from scrimmage to Ingram's 184, and Sproles had scored two TDs vs. Ingram's one. Sproles racked up 131 yards from scrimmage last week in the Saints' 23-10 win over the Jaguars, and he could be in for another big game this week against the Panthers, who have lost their two best tacklers, LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, to season-ending injuries.

7. Larry Fitzgerald — Fitz returns to his native state to face the Vikings, and it's possible he'll get a warmer reception than the winless home side. In last year's trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 107 yards in a losing effort. Things have gotten a little better for Fitzgerald this year in the QB department, but while Kevin Kolb is certainly an upgrade over the rotating cast of flutterballers who threw to Fitzgerald in 2010, he ain't exactly Kurt Warner, which is why Fitz is on pace to score only eight TDs.

8. Pierre Garcon — The guy with the French name has been hard for fantasy leaguers to peg the past couple of seasons, tempting us with his talent but frustrating us with his mental lapses and inconsistency. As unpredictable as Garcon is, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that he's on track to produce the best single-season stats of his career while catching passes from backup-caliber quarterbacks rather than from future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Of course, Garcon's numbers are skewed by a couple of long TD catches against the Buccaneers last week (his only two receptions of the game). But Garcon also had six catches for 82 yards the previous week, and he now has more receiving yards and TDs than teammate Reggie Wayne on the season. Could it be that if the Manning-Wayne chemistry isn't a factor, Garcon is Wayne's equal? The speedy Haitian will try to keep things rolling this weekend against a Chiefs defense that already has allowed 10 TD passes, tied for the highest total in the league.

9. Philip Rivers — He's averaging better than 300 passing yards, but Rivers uncharacteristically has thrown six interceptions and only five TD passes. Perhaps this weekend's trip to Denver will perk up that sleepy TD total. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers firebombed the Broncos for 408 passing yards and four TD passes last week. Ace CB Champ Bailey, who has been out of the Broncos' lineup with a hamstring injury, has vowed to return on Sunday, but Bailey's presence hasn't had a detrimental effect on Rivers in the past. As Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post noted earlier this week, Rivers has an 8-2 career record against Denver, and among those 10 starts the Chargers have put up point totals of 52, 48, 41 and 35 (twice).

10. Jeremy Maclin — Remember the August hubbub over Maclin and his mystery illness? If Maclin still has any lingering trace of sickness, you wouldn't know it judging by his sick reception totals. Over his past three games, Maclin has caught 25 passes for 314 yards and two TDs. This weekend he gets to face the Bills, who are giving up 275.5 passing yards per game.

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