Each week, Dave presents a preview of the week’s most interesting contests from a fantasy perspective, offering his take on player performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.
Aaron Brooks: The erratiic Brooks has found his stride lately, but he is still mistake prone (20 TDs, 16 INTs). Carolina�s secondary is young and talented, meaning they may gamble more than some defensive units. This will be both good and bad for the Saints� QB. Brooks will have an up and down day, but will be a quality fantasy play. Brooks should have upwards of 240 or 250 yards, along with a TD and one or two turnovers.
Deuce McAllister: McAllister was listed in the top five of many fantasy cheat sheets to begin the year, but a combination of injuries and inconsistent play has Deuce sitting 66 yards short of 1000 for the year (with eight TDs). However, considering many teams will be sitting players, Deuce becomes one of the top RB starts this week. Though his performance has fluctuated this year, he has been picking up the slack as of late. During the Saints� three game winning streak, Deuce has rushed for 300 yards and two touchdowns while having at least 25 rushing attempts in each of those contests. Expect the Saints to give Deuce a large part of the workload again on Sunday, as he has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of his last four against Carolina. New Orleans could try to control the ball to keep it away from Carolina�s potent offense, so the streak should continue. Deuce will have 27 carries for 115 yards, a pair of catches for 15 yards, and a TD.
New Orleans WRs: As usual, Joe Horn has quietly put up top-five-WR caliber numbers this year. Those who had Horn fall to them in their draft have been rewarded with over 1300 yards and 10 TDs. Carolina�s secondary is talented, but they are relatively young and inexperienced, and therefore beatable. Horn should school them to tune of seven catches, 105 yards, and a score. Horn, unfortunately, does not have much help on the other side. Much maligned and oft-injured Dante Stallworth has great potential, but he has been either injured or inconsistent. He has respectable numbers this year, with 736 yards and five TDs, but he is once again listed as questionable for this game, so exercise caution if you are thinking about plugging him into your lineup. If he is able to play, he should be good for 50-60 yards. At #3 WR, Jerome Pathon has next to no value unless Stallworth is absent. Even then, he is not much of a play. Expect 25 yards for Pathon if Stallworth plays; if not, 40 should do it.
Boo Williams/Ernie Conwell: Williams has been a disappointment this year, to say the least. Expected by many to emerge as a top-tier fantasy TE, Boo has responded with only 344 receiving yards and two TDs (not to mention being benched at times in favor of Ernie Conwell due to his lack of commitment to run-blocking). Boo should not normally start for your team until he starts to consistently produce, but if you have issues with injuries or if your TE plays for a team already locked into a playoff spot and might spend a large part of the day on the sidelines, Boo could find his way into your lineup this week. Williams should see three catches, 30 yards, and a red zone look. A plus for Boo owners is that Conwell is questionable this week. If Conwell does not play, it means many more snaps and opportunities for Boo to produce. If Conwell does play, he does not warrant a start, seeing as he only has 100 yards for the entire year.
Defense: Never a good start, especially against a revamped Carolina offense. Start a top-notch defense or even a sleeper defense such as Cincinnati against a team that is playing reserves. Expect only one turnover and a couple of sacks for this unit. In the front seven, Darren Howard and Charles Grant are the most attractive starts, seeing as they each have over eight sacks on the year. Grant is the best play, however, because he also puts up consistent tackle numbers. In the secondary, Tebucky Jones is a safe play with 96 tackles, and Mike McKenzie is a possible play with his five interceptions. Be careful, however, because McKenzie does not partake in tackling often, making him a risky option at best.
Jake Delhomme: Bottom line: There is really nothing stopping Delhomme from putting up monster numbers in this game. The Saints pass defense is weak (although it has actually improved), and he should get ample support from the running game. He is a must-start this week for a team in must-win situation. Not much to say here, except that Delhomme should have around 300 yards with two or three TDs in this game.
Nick Goings: Goings has been instrumental in Carolina�s success in recent weeks, both in the rushing and receiving aspects of the game. He should have another productive day on the ground, as the Saints allow 4.7 yards per carry. Goings should see 20 carries for 70-75 yards. However, his damage could come through the air, where the Saints allow 7.65 yards per attempt. Goings has proven to be an adept pass-catcher this season, with over 300 yards and a couple of TDs receiving. Goings could add another 50 yards and a TD on the receiving end.
Carolina WRs: In Steve Smith�s absence, Mushin Muhammad has stepped up and looks like one of the best starts at WR this week. With over 1300 yards and 14 TDs this year, he will bolster any fantasy team’s chances in this final week of the season. In the Panthers’ first meeting with New Orleans, Muhammad registered 179 yards on ten catches and added a TD in a 32-21 victory. That was New Orleans’ last loss before their current three-game winning streak, a streak that has seen their defense improve dramatically. Muhammad probably will not duplicate the numbers he put up in the first game, but who could? Still, Muhammad should have his way, registering eight grabs for 120 yards and a TD. Keary Colbert has made for a respectable complement for Muhammad. He is listed as questionable, but has said that he expects to play in this finale. He should be on the field, and that means 50 yards and a red zone look for him. If he doesn�t suit up, Ricky Proehl could step into the fray. Otherwise, Proehl should only be good for 10 or 15 yards.
Kris Mangum/Mike Seidman: Another situation where neither of these players deserve a start, but many fantasy teams are a mere shell of their former selves as they enter week 17. If you are desperate, start Mangum, who compiled 272 yards and three TDs this year. Seidman, the second TE, is not a viable option with only 11 grabs for the year. Delhomme likes throwing to the tight ends, so 25-40 yards for Mangum and 10 for Seidman is a possibility.
Defense: As a unit, Carolina will have an average day. They should have two or three sacks along with a turnover or two, but they will give up too many points to have a spectacular fantasy day. Julius Peppers is the most coveted IDP of the group. With 59 tackles, 10 sacks, two interceptioms (one of which he returned for a TD), and a fumble recovery on the season, he is quickly becoming one of the most effective pass rushers around. Peppers should add four tackles and a sack or two on Sunday. Also on the front seven, Dan Morgan and Will Witherspoon have produced at the LB spot. Their consistent tackle numbers make them safe plays. Each could have six or seven tackles in this tilt. In the secondary, Mike Minter has once again surpassed the 70-tackle mark on his way to another quality year. Also, Carolina usually utilizes Minter in safety blitz packages, so a sack for him is not of the question.
Ricky Manning/Chris Gamble: This young tandem has turned into a formidable force at the corner spot for Carolina. Manning, the hero in last year�s NFC Championship win over Philadelphia, has overcome early struggles to register 60 tackles along with four interception this year. On the other side, Gamble, a rookie out of Ohio State, was passed on by some teams because they thought that it would take him a couple of years to mature into the position. On the contrary, Gamble has made an immediate impact by racking up 69 tackles and picking off six passes. Each of them should add three to five more tackles on Sunday, and if Brooks makes a mistake (which he usually does), one of these two will be the beneficiary.
Currently, these two teams are tied for the NFC�s last playoff spot, so the winner will have the inside track to the post-season. According to nfl.com, Carolina gets in with a victory and a Minnesota loss, or with a win if Seattle finishes ahead of St. Louis for the NFC West title. On the other side, New Orleans gets in with a win Sunday and a loss or tie by the Rams, or with a victory plus wins or ties by both the Seahawks and Vikings. Both teams have extraordinary stories to this point. Both have been kept alive by their refusal to mail in their seasons as well as the general mediocrity of the NFC. The Panthers have come from the depths of a 1-7 start to the brink of a playoff appearance, while the enigmatic Saints were 4-8 before winning three in a row (including two on the road) to get to this point. The Saints will have to do it again on the road on Sunday, where they are a surprising 4-3 this season. However, I believe that Carolina�s offensive rebirth (averaging over 30 points in the last seven) will be too much for the vulnerable Saints defense. This game will be worth watching, however, seeing as you never know what to expect from the unpredictable Saints. Happy new year, and good luck to those who unfortunately have their league championships this week. Carolina 27, New Orleans 23.
Dave McGrath hopes to eventually turn his Communication major into a full-time sportwriting career. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.
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