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ON FANTASY SPORTS

In title game, one matchup can mean everything

On this week's football do's and don'ts

December 20, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

So we come to a close.

With fantasy championship games unfolding this weekend, it's safe to label this another mystifying, frustrating and, of course, entertaining season of pretend football.

We've learned that, given a few dangerous receivers, Tom Brady is just as much a statistical juggernaut as Peyton Manning. We've learned that Tony Romo is for real and that Marvin Harrison isn't immune to poor fortune.

We've learned that injury, age and shaky line play can undercut even the most reliable runners.

We've been reminded that rookie runners (Adrian Peterson) are almost always better bets than rookie receivers (Calvin Johnson).

We've seen the Ravens' defense fall and the Cowboys' offense soar.

I hope your seasons went better than mine, but enough of the memories.

I imagine that most of you who have games this week don't need advice. Your teams are obviously good or you would not have made it to the championship round. In a tight game against a strong opponent, however, one matchup can swing things, so here are my thoughts on Week 16.

Players you normally might not start but should consider this week:

Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks vs. Ravens - Quarterbacks who can find receivers in the middle of the field have killed the Ravens all season. Hasselbeck is a midrange master, so expect a big week.

Donovan McNabb, Eagles at Saints - He hasn't looked sharp since returning from injury, but the Saints are 30th in the NFL in pass defense. If you're ever going to start McNabb, this is the week.

Brandon Jacobs, Giants at Bills - The Giants showed they will ride him last week, and so should you against a weak Buffalo run defense.

Jamal Lewis, Browns at Bengals - He has been a bear the past two weeks, and Cincinnati can't stop the run. The result of that equation is pretty obvious.

Kolby Smith, Chiefs at Lions - If he could run effectively against a tough Titans defense last week, he should be even better against the weaker Detroit unit.

Laurence Maroney, Patriots vs. Dolphins - You have to think the Patriots will run more than usual against the league's worst rush defense. Maroney reminded us last week that he can handle the load.

Brandon Marshall, Broncos at Chargers - The Chargers don't cover lead receivers well, and Marshall has gotten the ball a ton the past two weeks. Keep riding this consistent performer.

Anquan Boldin, Cardinals vs. Falcons - I fretted about his toe injury last week, but he turned out to be fine. Kurt Warner should have a field day throwing to Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald this week.

Bobby Engram, Seahawks vs. Ravens - Engram lives in those midrange gaps I mentioned in the Hasselbeck comment. He and Deion Branch are strong candidates to have big weeks against the depleted Ravens secondary.

Players you might usually start but shouldn't:

Philip Rivers, Chargers vs. Broncos - The Broncos have the sixth-best pass defense in the league but struggle to stop the run. So you have to think the Chargers will lean heavily on LaDainian Tomlinson instead of their frustratingly inconsistent quarterback.

Vince Young, Titans vs. Jets - He surprised me with a solid passing effort at Kansas City last week. But the combination of Young's inconsistent throwing and the Jets' solid pass defense makes him a sketchy bet again this week.

Clinton Portis, Redskins at Vikings - Portis was great last week, but Minnesota's run defense is dominant. If you have a good third back, look that way.

Thomas Jones, Jets at Titans - The veteran is a good bet against porous defensive fronts, but Tennessee is seventh best in the league at stopping the run.

Steve Smith, Panthers vs. Cowboys - This is not a reflection of Dallas' pass-defending excellence. It's just that Smith's eight catches for 72 yards last week amounted to his best performance in months. That's not the record of a must-start guy.

Plaxico Burress, Giants at Bills - He has just been terribly inconsistent. Every time I say Burress will have a bad week, he bounces back. So maybe you should start him. If you have more reliable options, don't.

Wes Welker, Patriots vs. Dolphins - Brady hasn't thrown to Welker as much recently as he did in the middle of the season, and I expect the Patriots to run plenty against the awful Miami ground defense. I'd start him in three-receiver formats but not in two-receiver formats.

As for defenses, I like Seattle against the Ravens, Detroit against Kansas City and Green Bay at Chicago. I'd sit the Bears in the same game, and don't think the Ravens will handle Seattle's passing very well.

May your championships be joyous.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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