Your training is complete.
All the "lessons" my ESPN Fantasy mates and I have passed along all season, and the ones that you, dear readers, have learned through experience, are being put into play. I could see it in my Tuesday chat, the questions were more thought-provoking and well-researched. The questions were from readers who are as much or more into fantasy football than they were in Week 1. If you've made it this far, you know what you're doing. You know how to approach tough decisions and how to handle them.
I tip my hat to you and realize there's no time for idle chitchat. Let's get to the news:
Portis blasts Zorn | Read full blog entry
"Clinton Portis didn't appreciate being benched Sunday against the Ravens, and he expressed his displeasure on his weekly radio show on The John Thompson Show on Tuesday. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post provided the entire transcript, which is pretty explosive. "We got a genius for a head coach, I don't know, I'm sure he's on top of things," said Portis. ... Later in the day, Zorn did his best to shoot down the controversy, but this one isn't going away. Portis questioned Zorn's play calling early in the season, and then the two argued on the sideline during the Seattle game when Portis put himself back in a game." -- Matt Mosley
Fantasy spin: Zorn's multiple explanations earlier this week have made a lot of sense to me. First of all, he noted that the team was trailing, and that Portis hasn't been as good (my words, not his) as a receiver. Ladell Betts is the better pass-catcher, and Mike Sellers the better pass-blocker, so they got the work. Makes sense; you have to adjust to the game. And finally, and this one is more poignant, Zorn said (as quoted in Mosley's blog): "I thought, 'OK, here's an opportunity for us to get Ladell in, who has practiced.' And he knows it just because he's rehearsed it and rehearsed it." Bingo. As often as star players have gotten away with it over the years, coaches hate it when starters don't practice all week and expect to play Sunday. The banged-up Portis, of course, had reasons for not practicing, and he did appear to be at maximum effort Sunday, but Zorn felt he had a better shot with Betts and Sellers, and I don't blame him one bit.
So what of this week? Well, this type of thing happens regularly each season, and I believe coaching staffs "compensate" the following week. That is, if they feel the player has a legitimate reason to complain. And that theory hasn't been proved wrong this season, most recently in the case of LenDale White, who got one carry in Week 12, griped about it, and then has gotten 23 and 24 carries, respectively, the past two weeks. After consecutive weeks of facing the tough run defenses of the Giants and Ravens, the Skins now face the Bengals and their 23rd-ranked run defense. I look for Portis to go back to his 20-plus carries, and he'll be motivated, and perhaps even fresher, to do something with them. In my mind, this is one of those cases in which you can throw the past few weeks out the window and look forward. I think he makes for a better start now than he was even two weeks ago.
Jones' suspension (finally) upheld | Read full blog entry
"The Matt Jones appeal has finally been resolved, and the Jaguars will be without their most consistently productive player in the pass game for the remainder of a nightmare season. He's got 65 catches for 761 yards and the next most 'productive' wide receiver, Reggie Williams, has 30 for 295." -- Paul Kuharsky
Fantasy spin: How 'bout that Reggie Williams! Seriously. It looks like Jerry Porter (groin) will be out, too, not that he matters much, and fellow receiver Mike Walker was inactive in Week 14 to attend the funerals of both his best friend and his father. This leaves Williams as really the only go-to guy against a Packers defense that was lit up in successive weeks by the Saints, Panthers and Texans. I'd strongly consider Williams for your No. 3 WR/flex spot, as well as Marcedes Lewis at tight end.
Second Jones goes down for Jags | Read full blog entry
"On Wednesday, the Jaguars announced fullback Greg Jones has been placed on IR with an ankle injury. Jacksonville's run game is just 17th in the NFL. The team lost three of its top six offensive linemen to season-ending injuries right out of the gate. Jones is a solid player with a running back's sense of run plays. The Jaguars are likely to lean on backup Montell Owens, an excellent special teamer, and could also go more with two tight ends." -- Paul Kuharsky
Fantasy spin: I remember way back in Week 1 or 2 writing about the loss of two key offensive linemen for the Jaguars, and how it would affect the team's running game especially. There's no reason a team with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew should be ranked 17th in the league in rushing. That just ain't the Jags, and I blame the blocking troubles. Losing Jones only adds to those problems. I still like the Jags this week versus the Packers, especially Maurice Jones-Drew. But it could be a tough go the final two weeks against Indy and Baltimore. Oh, one thing to remember for next fall, though: Knowing all about the Jags' troubles with the health of their blockers, be sure not to underrate MJD.
Giants' Week 16 game time moved | Read full blog entry
"The Panthers-Giants game Dec. 21 has been moved from 1 p.m. ET to 8:15 p.m. ET. This wasn't tough to predict considering the fact that the two teams could be playing for home-field advantage. The game originally scheduled for 8:15 p.m. ET (Chargers at Bucs) will be moved to 1 p.m. ET. The Eagles-Redskins game on that same day will move from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. ET." -- Matt Mosley
Fantasy spin: Ho hum, nothing to see here, right? Well, we can hope. The potential problem here is Brandon Jacobs' availability. The G-men were originally scheduled to play at 1 p.m. If Jacobs' knee is still hurting, and he's a game-time decision, instead of knowing about his status before Sunday games begin, we now won't know until they're almost over. That's not good. Of course, we hope he's not a game-time decision anyway, but be prepared for this anyway. Oh, and also note there's a Saturday game (Baltimore at Dallas) in Week 16.
Skins tackle Samuels done for the season | Read full blog entry
"Redskins coach Jim Zorn revealed Monday that left tackle Chris Samuels had a 50 percent tear of his triceps and will miss the rest of the season. In the first half of the season, Samuels was playing like a Pro Bowler again -- and not just because of the Redskins' aggressive campaign. He's admitted to being an avid reader of this blog, so let's wish him the best of luck as he prepares for surgery. When Samuels was healthy, the Redskins' left-handed running game was dominant in the first half of the season. He was able to show off his athleticism in space and he engulfed defenders. Now, he'll have to wait until next season. Stephon Heyer will replace Samuels at left tackle." -- Matt Mosley
Fantasy spin: Sure, after I hyped Portis above. And right tackle Jon Jansen is hurting, too. Well, I still believe in Portis -- this week. Things might be a little different in the final two weeks against Philly and San Fran. Those two defenses have the eighth- and ninth-ranked defenses, respectively, and without Samuels (and maybe Jansen), I see Portis & Co. having a challenge running the ball. He'll get his carries, and might even score, but don't look for a high yards-per-carry average. I also like Jason Campbell a little less as a result of this.
Bruschi might be done for the season | Read full blog entry
"If you happen to attend the Patriots' next game in Gillette Stadium, take a look around the stands at the jerseys fans are sporting. There's a strong possibility that player won't be wearing his own. Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, Laurence Maroney ... Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan and Ty Warren have missed time, too. Add fan favorite Tedy Bruschi to the list. The Boston Herald and Boston Globe both are speculating Bruschi's season might be over because his bad knee could land him on injured reserve. A source told the Herald that Bruschi's injury isn't serious from a medical standpoint, that he normally would miss only three to four weeks. But with only three games left in the regular season and the Patriots desperate to make the playoffs, they'll probably need to fill Bruschi's spot on the 53-man roster with a serviceable player." -- Tim Graham
Fantasy spin: Bruschi's replacement, Junior Seau (have you heard of him?), was signed last week, and while he obviously has a nose for the ball and a wealth of experience, he's not Tedy Bruschi. All these injuries have certainly taken a toll on the Patriots, who are an uncharacteristic 8-5 this season. Graham doesn't even mention that Ty Warren missed Sunday's game, Vince Wilfork played six snaps and James Sanders was limited. If they weren't facing the Raiders this week, we'd get a better gauge on how much the Pats' defense misses Bruschi; as it is, we'll have to wait 'til Week 16 against Arizona.
Packers lose Tauscher | Read full blog entry
"Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, coach Mike McCarthy announced Monday. Tauscher will be placed on injured reserve, and as a pending free agent, it's possible he's played his last season in a Packers uniform. Even if the Packers want him back, you wonder if his knee will be ready. Tauscher suffered a 75 percent tear of the same ligament during the 2002 season. Some players never return when they re-tear an ACL." -- Kevin Seifert
Fantasy spin: Gulp! Tauscher is a fine lineman and a true road grader, and I believe his absence will be felt in the Packers' running game. In fact, with a road game against the Jaguars and their powerful line next on the schedule, and a road game against the Bears and their sixth-ranked run defense to follow, I'm starting to doubt you can count on Ryan Grant in your key playoff weeks.
"Raiders coach Tom Cable told reporters that Russell should be ready to play Sunday against visiting New England. Russell was more cautious and wouldn't commit to being ready. His ankle has been in a protective boot since Thursday night's loss at San Diego. Russell was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter. It appears if Russell feels comfortable in practice this week, he will play against the Patriots. It still says here that Russell should pack it up for the rest of the season. He has been suffering from ankle and knee injuries much of the season. The Raiders are 3-10 and not going anywhere. Russell, who hasn't played well for much of the season, should start preparing for 2009. But it seems if he's healthy enough, he will play." -- Bill Williamson
Fantasy spin: Not that you should play him ... we just felt it was a civic duty to at least update you on the situation.
Booker's availability appears doubtful | Read full blog entry
"The Bears signed receiver Devin Aromashodu off Washington's practice squad. The move, coming during a short practice week, suggests the Bears don't think they'll have receiver Marty Booker [cracked rib] for Thursday night's game against New Orleans." -- Kevin Seifert
Fantasy spin: Good observation. Of course, in fantasy, it's a meaningless observation.
Cassel's father passes | Read full blog entry
"Quarterback Matt Cassel, who has handled the pressure and angst surrounding the Patriots and their delicate playoff hopes with aplomb, will need to dig even deeper Sunday. The Boston Herald is reporting Cassel's father, Greg, has passed away. ... The Patriots are in California this week. They remained out West in between road games against the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders. Herald reporter Karen Guregian wrote Patriots players had Wednesday off, and Cassel's status for the rest of the week is unknown. The club declined to comment." -- Tim Graham
Fantasy spin: Our thoughts go out to the Cassel family. Obviously we'll track Cassel's status as best we can this week, but it likely helps that the team plays in California, which is where Cassel grew up and his father died.
Meet Mr. Boyd | Read full blog entry
"The Broncos promoted running back Cory Boyd from the practice squad to take Peyton Hillis' place. Boyd, a rookie from South Carolina, is expected to be in the tailback mix down the stretch, along with Tatum Bell, Selvin Young (who could play Sunday at Carolina for the first time since suffering a groin injury in early October) and P.J. Pope." -- Bill Williamson
Fantasy spin: I doubt it will happen against Carolina, but something tells me at least one of these guys will emerge as a viable option the final two weeks of the season. I don't mean great, but flex-worthy, at least. Shanahan's offense has a way of doing that for backs; you just never know which one it'll be. Wait and see this week. Who knows, maybe it'll be Young. But don't dismiss this situation entirely.
Thigpen focusing too much on Gonzo | Read full blog entry
"Chiefs coach Herman Edwards said young quarterback Tyler Thigpen needs to look for his receivers, other than just tight end Tony Gonzalez. It is clear Gonzalez is Thigpen's first option, but he is also his best option. The two clearly have a strong chemistry. After Sunday's loss in Denver, Gonzalez said it would be a 'disgrace' if Thigpen isn't Kansas City's quarterback next season." -- Bill Williamson
Fantasy spin: Thigpen's move to the starting gig has meant a re-emergence for Gonzalez, who is on pace for 96 catches (and is our top projected scorer at his position again this week). But it also has meant a fall for Dwayne Bowe, which is unfortunate because he was developing into a very consistent fantasy option. We don't blame Thiggy for looking at Gonzo first and foremost, but we also wouldn't blame you for not wanting Bowe if Thiggy remains the Chiefs' starting quarterback next season.
Seahawks fear for Hasselbeck? | Read full blog entry
"From Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Matt Hasselbeck missed the New England game in part because doctors feared what might happen if he suffered through another sack-filled game. ... More from Farnsworth: Walter Jones' knee injury is making it harder for the Pro Bowl left tackle to plant and push off." -- Mike Sando
Fantasy spin: Yup, the two are related. In Week 15, the Seahawks host the Rams, who don't pose much of a threat on defense, but Weeks 16 and 17 versus the Jets and Cardinals, respectively, could be a different story.
Dorsey clearly not the answer | Read full blog entry
"After one start this year, it is clear Browns starting quarterback Ken Dorsey's lack of arm strength is his biggest weakness. Dorsey is a smart quarterback who knows the offense as well as any player on the team. He knows the play and where to go with the football. But there were so many occasions in Sunday's 28-9 loss to the Titans where Dorsey didn't have the physical ability to make the proper throws that Cleveland needed to score points. The Browns had short fields on several occasions against Tennessee and settled for field goals." -- James Walker
Fantasy spin: Which is why the Browns can almost be written off for offensive players right now. I'm talking Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis and probably even Kellen Winslow, if/when he returns. It's sad to say, but Dorsey is for the Browns what Ryan Fitzpatrick is for the Bengals, a killer of fantasy prospects.
Do we have a new Colts receiving option? | Read full blog entry
"On a day when Peyton Manning spread the ball around to stars like Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts' leading receiver in catches was ... Gijon Robinson? Yup, the blocking tight end who came into the Colts game against the Bengals with seven catches nearly matched his season total (6 catches, 69 yards) on one afternoon. Tony Dungy explained in his Monday news conference that the Colts expected the Bengals to bring extra people at Manning often, and so they used their two-tight end package a lot, meaning third-receiver Gonzalez played sparingly while Robinson got a lot of work." -- Paul Kuharsky
Fantasy spin: All right, I guess we can accept that. We also accept that Gonzalez should get more work this week, and Robinson is someone who should be left on our league's waiver wire.
Panther's O-line deserves credit, too | Read full blog entry
"If it looked like the Panthers' offensive line played the perfect game Monday night, think again. The good news for the Panthers is they rushed for 299 yards in a 38-23 victory over Tampa Bay, and their offensive line may have not hit its peak. Seriously. ... Carolina's offensive line really hasn't played together very much. Center Ryan Kalil and right tackle Jeff Otah each missed significant time with injuries and the Panthers were forced to shuffle in reserves Geoff Hangartner and Jeremy Bridges. It's only been in the past three games the intended starting offensive line has gotten back to being together." -- Pat Yasinskas
Fantasy spin: Ah, so it's more than just DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart hitting their strides. Not sure if I agree they can play better than they did Monday night, but at least this gives me reason to believe the running game will remain in top form -- and that Stewart, the backup, will remain a strong flex play.
Hester's return production way down | Read full blog entry
"Devin Hester was the NFL's top kick returner in 2006 and 2007, and the Bears hoped to capitalize more consistently on his big-play abilities in their offense. Hester has steadily improved as a receiver, but his return production has dropped off dramatically." -- Kevin Seifert
Fantasy spin: Seifert goes on to list the numbers. After having 20 catches in 2006-07, Hester has 39 this season. But his kick-return average from the past two years to 2008 has dropped a yard and a half, and his punt-return average is down from 14.1 to 6.2, and after having 11 combined return TDs in '06 and '07, he has none this season. Now, one can say his return average is down simply because he hasn't broken any long ones, but why is that? I refuse to think it's because he's getting more work at receiver. I mean, he's still not getting a ton of work there. I believe instead that nagging injuries (including a rib injury earlier this season) and teams being smarter about kicking to him are more of a reason for the decline. Of course, in most leagues, Hester is more valuable as a result of this, but that comes at the expense of the Bears' defense/special teams. Fortunately, the Bears have managed to tie for fifth in standard ESPN league fantasy scoring, but they've had to do it the hard way. On a related note, it appears star defensive tackle Tommie Harris will be able to play Thursday against New Orleans despite a sore hamstring.
Remember that Young guy in Tennessee? | Read full blog entry
"All the Vince Young-doesn't-want-to-play-anymore talk is unsubstantiated rumor, as far as I am concerned. He's said nothing to indicate that's what he's thinking. He's in the background, talking little or not at all right now. [That he doesn't talk much to Kerry Collins and Jeff Fisher on the sideline] is a concern, but I think it's reached the point of being overblown. Fisher has repeatedly said they are not unhappy with what he does or where he is during a game. Read into that what you will. He does have a small earpiece, not a big headset, and is listening more than people may think." -- Paul Kuharsky
Fantasy spin: I'm going to leave this one alone. Let this serve as a reminder that Vince is still in the league, and it sounds like he's still learning the game. Being around a winning team and a veteran quarterback, in fact, probably helps him. But he's far from the fantasy radar.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.