In the aftermath of one of the least eventful weeks in recent memory, I find myself thinking about two running backs -- college teammates -- whose seasons have gone in sharply different directions.
When the season began, Maroney was the one with all the hype. The retirement of Corey Dillon left Maroney as the featured back for the Patriots, who scored 20 rushing touchdowns in 2006. Maroney was, on average, the 11th running back selected in ESPN.com fantasy drafts.
Barber, on the other hand, was the 21st running back drafted despite scoring 16 touchdowns in '06. Fantasy owners were skittish about the departure of coach Bill Parcells and the possibility that Julius Jones would be featured more prominently in the offense.
Fast-forward to today, and those draft-day values seem ridiculous. Barber is currently the eighth-highest scorer among running backs in ESPN.com standard scoring, despite having 35 fewer carries than any back ahead of him. Maroney ranks 38th, behind such superstars as Kenny Watson, LaMont Jordan and Ron Dayne.
With all of this in mind, where would these two backs rank for 2008, if we were drafting right now?
Barber scored three more touchdowns on Sunday, giving him 11 for the season. He scored 16 in 2006, so his scoring prowess cannot be considered a fluke. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season and is presently at 4.9, making him one of the most effective runners in the NFL. Jones will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and almost certainly will move on. Assuming the Cowboys go with Barber as their No. 1 runner in 2008, how many running backs would you draft ahead of him? Four? Five? For me, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Adrian Peterson would clearly be the top three, but Barber would be in the next tier along with Joseph Addai and Steven Jackson (finishing strong).
On the other side of the coin, there might be 20 backs I'd take ahead of Maroney. While you have to assume that Tom Brady won't throw 50 touchdown passes next season and there will be more fantasy points available for the Patriots' running backs, are you confident that Maroney will get those points? Even accounting for his limited role in the offense, Maroney has done nothing to dispel the notion that he can't carry a full workload. In his first five games this season, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry; in the past five, he's averaged 3.3. If you were drafting right now for next season, would you take Maroney before Kevin Jones? LenDale White? Edgerrin James? I wouldn't.
We all knew that the Dolphins presented a favorable matchup, but what happened in Week 14 was beyond ridiculous. Trent Edwards (4 touchdown passes) was the No. 5 fantasy quarterback of the week, scoring more points than Tony Romo or Brett Favre. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson both rushed for more than 100 yards, and each scored more fantasy points than Willis McGahee or Adrian Peterson. Lee Evans (2 catches, 79 yards, 2 TDs) was the No. 5 fantasy receiver of the week, scoring more points than Reggie Wayne and Chad Johnson combined. Robert Royal (3 catches, 46 yards, 2 TDs) was the No. 2 tight end of the week, scoring more fantasy points than the collective efforts of Kellen Winslow, Ben Watson, Dallas Clark and Jeremy Shockey. The Buffalo defense/special teams got into the act, ranking second in fantasy points while tallying five sacks and five takeaways. Poor Rian Lindell ranked only ninth among kickers in a horribly disappointing, emasculating performance. My dear boy, Rian ... for shame! Obviously, this was a colossal fluke, and if you rely on Bills for the remainder of the playoffs, may all of your fantasy dreams miss wide right.
Upside down Vikings
Upside down Vikings
Going into Week 14, we (and by "we" I mean the collective fantasy "expert" universe) liked the chances of both Minnesota running backs to have big games against Stephania Bell's lowly 49ers. With 101 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, plus three catches for 23 yards, Chester Taylor delivered on that promise. Adrian Peterson? Um ... not so much. Peterson rushed for three yards on 14 (!) carries in route to the line of the day: a 0.2 yards-per-carry average. To put that into perspective, at that pace, Peterson would have needed 500 carries to get to 100 yards. The 49ers committed every possible resource to stopping the Minnesota running game. For the most part, they were very successful. Take away Taylor's 84-yard touchdown run and he managed only 17 yards on his other seven carries. Did the 49ers discover a formula that the Vikings' remaining three opponents can also deploy? That's a stretch. First of all, in terms of strategy, "stop the run and make Tarvaris Jackson beat you" isn't exactly patent pending. Second, one of the reasons Peterson and Taylor have broken off so many long runs this season is that opposing teams put eight and nine men in the box; so when the Minnesota runners aren't stopped near the line of scrimmage, they're often not stopped at all. Fantasy owners shouldn't put too much stock in this game, although I realize that's little solace to any Peterson owners who were effectively eliminated from the playoffs based on his performance alone.
LenDale White, RB, Titans: Matthew Berry made a great joke on the podcast: Maybe the Titans put a slab of bacon behind each goalpost this week. Whatever the reason, White ran hard and tough on his way to 113 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. More importantly, he was once again used as the workhorse; Chris Brown carried only five times for 16 yards, albeit with a touchdown.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: In the past four games, Jones-Drew is averaging 2.7 yards per carry. In the same span, running behind the same offensive line, Fred Taylor is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. It could be nothing, or it could be that there's something wrong with Jones-Drew that we just don't know about yet.
Darius Walker, RB, Texans: With Ahman Green on injured reserve and Ron Dayne (sprained ankle) a major question mark for Thursday's game against the Broncos, it could be Walker -- and not Adimchinobi Echemandu -- who gets the call for Houston. Walker, an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, carried 16 times for just 46 yards in his NFL debut on Sunday.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Patriots: After catching seven balls for 122 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, Gaffney has now scored in three consecutive games. In two of those games, he's caught at least six passes with more than 85 yards.
Donte' Stallworth, WR, Patriots:
By way of comparison, Stallworth hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 7 and hasn't tallied more than 70 yards in a game since Week 6.
Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals Fantasy owners who stuck with Johnson were rewarded; he tallied 92 yards and a touchdown in Week 14. He has three favorable matchups (49ers, Browns, Dolphins) down the stretch.
LaMont Jordan, RB, Raiders Justin Fargas left Sunday's game with bruised ribs and was replaced by Jordan. You'd have to be pretty desperate to play Jordan, but there's at least a chance he'll start in Week 15.
Studs and Duds
Stud: Tom Brady (399 yards, 4 TDs)
Honorable Mention: Jay Cutler (244 yards, 4 TDs)
Dud: Carson Palmer (189 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs)
Dishonorable Mention: Vince Young (121 passing yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs, 2 rushing yards)
Stud: LaDainian Tomlinson (173 total yards, 2 TDs)
Honorable mention: Marion Barber (43 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 10 receptions, 61 yards, TD)
Dud: Adrian Peterson (3 total yards)
Dishonorable mention: Kolby Smith (10 total yards)
Stud: Randy Moss (7 catches, 135 yards, 2 TDs)
Honorable mention: Brandon Marshall (10 catches, 115 yards, 2 TDs)
Dud: Terrell Owens (3 catches, 21 yards)
Dishonorable mention: Isaac Bruce (0 catches)
Stud: Jason Witten (15 catches, 138 yards, TD)
Dud: Jeremy Shockey (1 catch, 4 yards)
Stud: Shayne Graham (4 FGs, 1 PAT)
Dud: Nick Folk (4 PATs, 1 missed FG)
Team Defenses/Special Teams
Stud: Seattle Seahawks (5 INTs, 5 sacks, 1 safety, 1 return TD)
Dud: Dallas Cowboys (0 takeaways, 1 sacks, 27 points allowed)
Quick thoughts on injuries not covered elsewhere. For detailed injury analysis, check out Stephania Bell's injury blog.
All signs pointed to Jeff Garcia playing through his back injury in Week 14, but he was a last-minute scratch. Given the fact that Garcia practiced all of last week, you'd think an extra week of rest would be enough to get him on the field in Week 15.
Trent Dilfer left Sunday's game with a concussion and was replaced by Shaun Hill. Unless you're a die-hard Niners fan (that's you, Stephania) or a member of the Dilfer or Hill family, I sincerely hope you don't care about this injury.
If you didn't realize it already, Andre Johnson has achieved "start regardless of matchup" status. Johnson caught nine passes for 82 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, 27 percent of Johnson owners benched him this week, perhaps fearing the Tampa Bay defense/Sage Rosenfels combination.
Can we all stop for a moment and marvel at the fact that Brock Berlin has now started an NFL game?
Let's also marvel at the brilliance of Torry Holt, who caught eight Berlin passes for 90 yards. Great receivers can get it done with anyone at quarterback, as long as they have the will to do so.
I have a feeling Jay Cutler has a lot more four-touchdown games in his future. Cutler is going to finish his first full season as a starter with about 3,500 yards and 20-plus touchdowns, and that's with Javon Walker missing most of the season. By the way, if you want a cheap laugh, do a Google search for Jay Cutler.
Against one of the worst run defenses in the known universe, Kolby Smith managed 12 yards on 13 carries. On the bright side, he managed to do the impossible: He made Chiefs fans pine for Michael Bennett.
Please join me in a loud and resounding "boo" for Carson Palmer, who was held without a touchdown for the second straight game, and for the third time in the past five games. On paper, Palmer has great matchups in the final three games, but a great matchup did him no good on Sunday.
Five early trends for Week 15
Donovan McNabb has thrown only four touchdown passes in his past five games against the Cowboys.
Rex Grossman has one touchdown pass and five interceptions in his past three starts against the Vikings.
In seven career games against the Giants, Chris Cooley has never tallied even 50 yards in a game.
Willis McGahee is averaging 90 rushing yards per game in his career against the Dolphins.
In Week 12 of the 2000 season, Fred Taylor rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Steelers. Feel free to throw that game out, but in four meetings with Pittsburgh since then, Taylor has averaged a healthy 86 yards per game.
Nate Ravitz is an editor and analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.