Mike Tanier

Going Deep

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For fantasy purposes only

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The NFL schedule is littered with "meaningless" games this time of year: two bad teams playing out the string in a half-empty stadium, coaches cleaning out desk drawers, fans dreaming of draft day.

But thanks to fantasy football, there is no such thing as a meaningless game, especially in Week 16. If you are in your Fantasy Super Bowl, and Matt Schaub is your quarterback, you will spend Sunday huddled in a dank corner of the local sports bar, cheering for the Texans while everyone else watches Packers-Giants.

Here are three "meaningless" games that will have minimal impact on the NFL standings but may change the fortunes of fantasy owners all over the world. Let the traditional writers worry about the Ravens and Bears this week: you need to know what's going on with the Titans offense, and you need to know by Sunday!

Cowboys at Cardinals
Meaningless because: Hey, it made sense when the schedules were announced: the Cowboys on Christmas night! Against Larry Fitzgerald and the high-powered Cardinals offense! Now, the game is a gift to those of us who cover football for a living: a game we can safely ignore while spending time with our families.

Meaningful because: The Cowboys have scored 27 points or more in every game since Jason Garrett became interim head coach. (Though, to be accurate, a lot of those points came on defense and special teams).

What you need to know: Tashard Choice gets most of the goal-line touches for the Cowboys now: he had five carries and was targeted once inside the 20 against the Redskins. Felix Jones had just two red-zone carries on Sunday, one from the 15-yard line. When Choice isn't getting the ball, the Cowboys have a bad habit of lining up in shotgun and asking Jon Kitna to be creative. They actually ran a quarterback draw near the goalline last week (it looked as bad as it sounds), and Sam Hurd has become a fantasy leech for Miles Austin: Kitna targeted Hurd six times on Sunday, including twice in the red zone. My theory is that Jason Garrett secretly wants to get fired so he can coach at a college somewhere.

The Cardinals only had the ball for 23 minutes on Sunday, and you cannot generate a lot of fantasy points if you never have the ball. Fitzgerald somehow remains a viable receiver in yardage and PPR leagues (John Skelton throws him a lot of three-yard passes), and Tim Hightower could still help you at running back: he had two touchdowns two weeks ago, and the Cardinals look to him as a receiver near the goal line on the rare occasions that they get there. The Cowboys defense has been very opportunistic in the second half of the season and could feast on the inexperienced Skelton.

Titans at Chiefs
Meaningless because: This game has a lot of meaning for the Chiefs, who are trying to win the AFC West. Fans of the Ravens, Steelers, Jaguars, Jets and other contenders will also have an eye on this game: no one wants to see the dangerous-but-self-destructive Chargers sneak into the postseason. But the Chiefs could lose this game and still win the division, and while the Titans are somehow mathematically alive (the scenario involves mega-earthquakes), this is hardly a critical matchup.

Meaningful because: Some of the most important running backs in the fantasy realm will be on the field.

What you need to know: Chris Johnson is back after his midseason slump. Kerry Collins' return worked wonders for Johnson, who had nowhere to run when defenses stacked the box and dared Rusty Smith to beat them. Kenny Britt is also back, with 17 targets in two weeks, so get him off your injured reserve and into your lineup. Randy Moss is in a teepee somewhere contemplating his nipples. Justin Gage caught a leecheriffic one-yard touchdown on Sunday, but he has caught one pass per week for the last three weeks and is mostly harmless.

If you have lived with Jamal Charles or Thomas Jones all season, by now you have accepted that Charles is going to run 80 yards, get injured at the two-yard line, and watch from the sideline as Jones scores the two-yard touchdown. Charles is the better back in yardage and PPR leagues (he has 39 catches to Jones' 13), but Jones gets more carries and Todd Haley remains unpredictable in the red zone. Dwayne Bowe has three catches in 16 targets in the last three games, and you should bench him this week if you have alternatives. Titans cornerback Courtland Finnegan is both a good defender and a world champion agitator who can get under the skin of the somewhat flaky Bowe.

Texans at Broncos
Meaningless because: Neither team has any defense whatsoever, which knocked them out of the playoff picture.

Meaningful because: Neither team has any defense whatsoever, making this a fantasy goldmine.

What you need to know: The Texans are reliable on offense. Schaub will give you over 300 yards and a touchdown or two. Andre Johnson will be productive. Arian Foster had an off week on Sunday, but he still found a way to contribute, catching six passes for 46 yards when he was shut down on the ground. Owen Daniels has nine catches since his return, but you probably found another option at tight end when he was gone, and there's no reason to change back now.

As for the Broncos ... sigh ... Tim Tebow's arrival resulted in some amazingly nutty statistics on Sunday. The Broncos only reached the red zone once against the Raiders, scratching their way to the 17-yard line on one drive. Non-Tebows averaged 1.12 yards per rush. Brandon Lloyd was the only receiver to catch more than one pass. Assuming Tebow stays in the saddle, the fun days of Kyle Orton throwing a million little screens to eight different receivers are gone.
If you stashed Tebow on the back of your bench all year, he may be worth a start: his rushing touchdown potential is high, and the Texans' pass defense is so bad that he should be able to complete a few deep passes. Lloyd is also worth a start, for the same reason. Matt Prater may get a bunch of 45-yard field goal attempts, so check the Denver forecast. Run screaming from any other Broncos player.

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