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Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The Big Rotowski: Resetting rankings for fantasy playoffs

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Editor's Note: These rankings are meant to capture fantasy value from today through the end of the NFL regular season. We'll publish them every Tuesday during the season to help you decide about trades and waiver-wire acquisitions; as such, this list won't always reflect news that comes out later in the week. And remember, every Wednesday you'll find week-specific rankings from all our fantasy football writers.

Quarterback Rankings
RANK Name Team Two Weeks Ago
1 Kurt Warner Cardinals 2
2 Drew Brees Saints 1
3 Jay Cutler Broncos 4
4 Aaron Rodgers Packers 6
5 Peyton Manning Colts 3
6 Donovan McNabb Eagles 8
7 Tony Romo Cowboys 5
8 Brett Favre Jets 10
9 Matt Cassel Patriots 16
10 Tyler Thigpen Chiefs 17
11 Eli Manning Giants 11
12 Chad Pennington Dolphins 15
13 Matt Ryan Falcons 12
14 Philip Rivers Chargers 7
15 Shaun Hill 49ers 23
16 Jeff Garcia Buccaneers 18
17 Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 9
18 Joe Flacco Ravens 27
19 Matt Schaub Texans 32
20 Gus Frerotte Vikings 25
21 Jason Campbell Redskins 14
22 David Garrard Jaguars 13
23 Kerry Collins Titans 26
24 Matt Hasselbeck Seahawks 22
25 Kyle Orton Bears 21
26 Jake Delhomme Panthers 20
27 Trent Edwards Bills 19
28 Daunte Culpepper Lions 29
29 Marc Bulger Rams 31
30 Ryan Fitzpatrick Bengals 30
31 JaMarcus Russell Raiders 33
32 Sage Rosenfels Texans 28
33 Ken Dorsey Browns NR
34 J.P. Losman Bills NR
35 Matt Leinart Cardinals 34
36 Drew Stanton Lions 35
37 Rex Grossman Bears 36
38 J.T. O'Sullivan 49ers 37
39 Seneca Wallace Seahawks 39
40 Tarvaris Jackson Vikings 40

Notes: After taking a week off because of Thanksgiving, the Big Rotowski is back with a playoff look. With a two-week break, I've tried to really "un-learn" some things, and focus on who's playing well and whose schedules look good. … I think the first three guys on this list have separated themselves, and if Drew Brees wasn't pretty much matchup-proof, I'd be tempted to make it a Big Two. Kurt Warner (STL, MIN, @NE, SEA) has four potentially good opponents, with the final two being particularly alluring, and Jay Cutler (KC, @CAR, BUF, @SD) isn't far off. Brees is worse (ATL, @CHI, @DET, CAR) but not horrible. … Donovan McNabb overcame his momentary benching to shine against the Cardinals on Thanksgiving, and once he gets over this week's game at the Giants, he goes CLE, @WAS, DAL, which is slightly favorable. … The Colts should have a few laughers before a potentially meaningful season finale, but Peyton Manning's play has continued to disappoint, and believe it or not the Lions, Jags and Titans (his final three opponents) have been negative matchups for opposing fantasy quarterbacks over the past five weeks. … Tony Romo is playing well, but has to run a gauntlet: @PIT, NYG, BAL, @PHI. … Brett Favre hasn't played wonderfully, but his schedule is fantastic: @SF, BUF, @SEA, MIA. … Matt Cassel was terrible against the Steelers, but he's got @SEA, @OAK, ARI, @BUF. The Seahawks and Cardinals, in particular, give you definite chances to use him again. … The best schedule for a usable fantasy player (i.e., not Marc Bulger) is Chad Pennington: @BUF, SF, @KC, @NYJ. Pennington is only the 17th-best quarterback in fantasy over the past five weeks, but he'll have a shot to make some plays. … The two big sufferers during my reset were Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Rivers has fallen off a cliff; he's 19th among fantasy quarterbacks the past five games, and gets OAK, @KC, @TB, DEN. Only the Chiefs might present a chance for Rivers to be a sure starter. As for Big Ben, he's 22nd among fantasy quarterbacks the past five weeks, and plays DAL, @BAL, @TEN, CLE. If you're still alive in Week 17, use him. … I wish I could put the surging Joe Flacco higher, but he goes WAS, PIT, @DAL, JAC. Not nice, and most definitely not the Bengals (Week 13's opponent). … All evidence points to Matt Schaub getting his job back in Week 14, which would send Sage Rosenfels back to the bench. Each of the Texans' upcoming opponents (@GB, TEN, @OAK, CHI) has been tough on fantasy quarterbacks in recent weeks. … As of this writing, it was unclear whether Trent Edwards would be able to go with his bad groin.

Running Back Rankings
RANK Name Team Two Weeks Ago
1 Adrian Peterson Vikings 1
2 Brandon Jacobs Giants 4
3 Matt Forte Bears 9
4 Michael Turner Falcons 11
5 Chris Johnson Titans 13
6 Marshawn Lynch Bills 12
7 Thomas Jones Jets 15
8 Maurice Jones-Drew Jaguars 14
9 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 3
10 Frank Gore 49ers 6
11 Brian Westbrook Eagles 7
12 Marion Barber Cowboys 5
13 DeAngelo Williams Panthers 20
14 Clinton Portis Redskins 2
15 Joseph Addai Colts 8
16 Peyton Hillis Broncos 36
17 Steve Slaton Texans 19
18 Ryan Grant Packers 16
19 Ronnie Brown Dolphins 10
20 Steven Jackson Rams 24
21 Warrick Dunn Buccaneers 25
22 Larry Johnson Chiefs 22
23 Kevin Smith Lions 29
24 Reggie Bush Saints 18
25 Jamal Lewis Browns 17
26 Willie Parker Steelers 21
27 LenDale White Titans 23
28 Tim Hightower Cardinals 28
29 Pierre Thomas Saints 48
30 Derrick Ward Giants 31
31 Kevin Faulk Patriots 47
32 Le'Ron McClain Ravens 46
33 Justin Fargas Raiders 27
34 Ricky Williams Dolphins 34
35 Jonathan Stewart Panthers 26
36 Mewelde Moore Steelers 37
37 Willis McGahee Ravens 30
38 Maurice Morris Seahawks NR
39 Sammy Morris Patriots 32
40 Cedric Benson Bengals 35
41 Dominic Rhodes Colts 38
42 Darren McFadden Raiders 40
43 Leon Washington Jets 43
44 Fred Jackson Bills 44
45 Chester Taylor Vikings NR
46 BenJarvus Green-Ellis Patriots 50
47 Jerious Norwood Falcons NR
48 Julius Jones Seahawks 39
49 Deuce McAllister Saints 45
50 Ray Rice Ravens 33

Notes: I'm mighty tempted to make Brandon Jacobs the top player in fantasy right now, but those injury shenanigans the Giants played in Arizona a couple of weeks ago give me pause. As it is, though, Jacobs has only failed to score once in his past nine starts, including six scores in the past four weeks. He's got a tough schedule (PHI, @DAL, CAR, @MIN), but he, too, is matchup-proof. … Lots of upheaval near the top, partly because of injuries, and partly because of good recent play and nice schedules. Matt Forte goes JAC, NO, GB, @HOU: not an elite run defense among them. Michael Turner is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns and goes @NO, TB, @MIN, STL. If the Williams boys in Minnesota are suspended, that schedule looks even sweeter. … Of all the used-to-be-elite backs, you'd think LaDainian Tomlinson would be one I bury even deeper, but he's got a kind schedule in three of four weeks: OAK, @KC, @TB, DEN. Skip the Bucs if you can, but otherwise, LT looks good for a least a cheapie score. … Brian Westbrook now has an injured toe to go with his knee and ankle. He also has all three NFC East foes left, which isn't inviting. … Marion Barber's toe could keep him out against Pittsburgh this week, and after that the schedule stays horrible: NYG, BAL, @PHI. Eesh. That's the worst schedule for an opposing rusher left this season. … Clinton Portis only carried it 11 times this week against the Giants, and spent a lot of time with Washington's trainer. He hasn't scored since Week 7, he isn't healthy, and his schedule is almost as bad as Barber's: @BAL, @CIN, PHI, @SF. Believe it or not, the Bengals and Niners are stopping the run pretty well lately, though those would be two games where you'd probably want to use Portis no matter what. … Joseph Addai has a sweet schedule (CIN, DET, @JAC, TEN), but why are the Colts using Dominic Rhodes in the red zone? … Peyton Hillis takes the biggest upward bounce. He's fantasy's ninth-highest-scoring back the past five weeks, with five touchdowns and a powerful downhill style. Methinks Mike Shanahan has settled on Hillis for the duration. … I wanted to put Ryan Grant higher, because I love his remaining schedule (HOU, @JAC, @CHI, DET), but he didn't play in the fourth quarter Sunday because of a sprained thumb. If he can't go this week in a nice matchup against the Texans, Brandon Jackson could be worth a spot start. … Ronnie Brown can't be considered a No. 1 fantasy back as long as Ricky Williams gets 12 carries to Brown's 15 every week (as happened Sunday). … Very quietly, Kevin Smith is starting to run well behind what is, let's face it, not a very good Detroit O-line. If those Vikings defensive tackles are suspended next week, a skein of MIN, @IND, NO, @GB doesn't look daunting at all for Smith. … Now that the Ken Dorsey era has begun in Cleveland, you can pretty much stick a fork in Jamal Lewis, I think. … Tim Hightower has a not-insane schedule (STL, MIN, @NE, SEA) but he has a total of 194 rushing yards in the past five weeks combined, four fewer than Cedric Benson. … Pierre Thomas figures to cut into Reggie Bush's value in a major way. I have to believe that at some point, Bush will get more than zero rushing yards (which was his Week 13 tally), but Thomas is the better player right now and will continue to be a drain. I won't be shocked to move Thomas over Bush in this list next week.

Wide Receiver Rankings
RANK Name Team Two Weeks Ago
1 Larry Fitzgerald Cardinals 1
2 Anquan Boldin Cardinals 3
3 Greg Jennings Packers 6
4 Brandon Marshall Broncos 4
5 Calvin Johnson Lions 9
6 Randy Moss Patriots 14
7 Dwayne Bowe Chiefs 8
8 Roddy White Falcons 5
9 Terrell Owens Cowboys 12
10 Andre Johnson Texans 7
11 Steve Smith Panthers 10
12 Reggie Wayne Colts 2
13 Santana Moss Redskins 11
14 Lance Moore Saints 26
15 Eddie Royal Broncos 23
16 Hines Ward Steelers 19
17 Marques Colston Saints 16
18 Jerricho Cotchery Jets 21
19 T.J. Houshmandzadeh Bengals 20
20 Donald Driver Packers 29
21 Lee Evans Bills 17
22 Wes Welker Patriots 15
23 Laveranues Coles Jets 22
24 Derrick Mason Ravens 31
25 Kevin Walter Texans 30
26 Antonio Bryant Buccaneers 37
27 Bernard Berrian Vikings 24
28 Chad Johnson Bengals 33
29 Braylon Edwards Browns 13
30 Domenik Hixon Giants NR
31 Amani Toomer Giants NR
32 Santonio Holmes Steelers 25
33 Ted Ginn Jr. Dolphins 41
34 Anthony Gonzalez Colts 34
35 DeSean Jackson Eagles 28
36 Kevin Curtis Eagles 35
37 Marvin Harrison Colts 40
38 Vincent Jackson Chargers 27
39 Steve Breaston Cardinals 38
40 Mark Clayton Ravens NR
41 Justin Gage Titans 47
42 Muhsin Muhammad Panthers 42
43 Deion Branch Seahawks NR
44 Torry Holt Rams 49
45 Malcom Floyd Chargers 46
46 Jabar Gaffney Patriots NR
47 Mark Bradley Chiefs 43
48 Chris Chambers Chargers 39
49 Roy E. Williams Cowboys 32
50 Isaac Bruce 49ers NR

Notes: I'll go with the Cardinals duo at the top of my board. Their remaining schedule, like Warner's, should be conducive to big days. … Brandon Marshall requires something of a leap of faith; he hasn't surpassed 98 yards receiving since Week 3. But the Broncos will keep throwing, and they've got a favorable schedule. … I hiked Calvin Johnson because he, too, seems basically matchup-proof, and because he's got a whopping 50 targets the past five weeks (behind only Anquan Boldin, Marshall and Braylon Edwards). … Randy Moss was as much to blame for the Patriots' flameout against Pittsburgh as anyone; he had two unbelievably bad drops on what would have been touchdowns. But he's getting open, and New England has a kind schedule against the pass. … Reggie Wayne didn't do anything in back-to-back sweet matchups against the Chargers and Browns, and is bound to Peyton Manning's inconsistencies. I probably wouldn't sit him, but his terrific schedule doesn't look so rewarding anymore. … In my weekly ranks two weeks ago, I put Lance Moore ahead of Marques Colston, and while Moore did score a touchdown for the fifth straight game, Colston was the real star, catching six passes for 106 yards. Still, defenses pay closer attention to Colston, so I'd rather use Moore. He's the end-zone man. … Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles have been disappointing over the past month, but along with Favre's great schedule, I see big things ahead for this duo, beginning in Week 14 against the 49ers. It's a pain to figure out which one will be big in a given week, but they'll each be decent. … Donald Driver has actually out-targeted Greg Jennings 35-34 over the past five weeks, and while Jennings is the more likely touchdown-maker, Driver is an intriguing play when he goes against the Texans, Jaguars and Bears the next three games. … Wes Welker got crushed by an illegal hit from Steelers DB Ryan Clark and missed the rest of the game Sunday, so he'll likely be questionable heading to the West Coast this week. … Braylon Edwards appears well-nigh useless with Ken Dorsey playing quarterback for the Browns. … I haven't ranked Plaxico Burress, whose self-inflicted gunshot wound reportedly isn't severe, but who's in a heap of legal trouble. There's no word yet on whether Plax will be allowed to play again this year, so for the moment, I've omitted him. Amani Toomer figures to be a more consistent contributor in Burress' absence, but Domenik Hixon is a better big-play threat. … With Greg Camarillo out for the year, Ted Ginn Jr. rises, but note that Davone Bess (who just missed this list) is also worth consideration, as he grabbed six passes versus the Rams on Sunday. … Deion Branch got 11 targets on Thanksgiving, compared to six for Bobby Engram and five for Koren Robinson. … Isaac Bruce has a touchdown in two straight weeks.

Tight End Rankings
RANK Name Team Two Weeks Ago
1 Tony Gonzalez Chiefs 3
2 Antonio Gates Chargers 2
3 Jason Witten Cowboys 1
4 Chris Cooley Redskins 7
5 Dustin Keller Jets 10
6 Dallas Clark Colts 5
7 Tony Scheffler Broncos 11
8 Owen Daniels Texans 6
9 Zach Miller Raiders 8
10 Jeremy Shockey Saints 13
11 Kevin Boss Giants 21
12 Bo Scaife Titans 12
13 Greg Olsen Bears 9
14 John Carlson Seahawks 15
15 Heath Miller Steelers 22
16 Visanthe Shiancoe Vikings 16
17 Todd Heap Ravens 23
18 Desmond Clark Bears 24
19 Benjamin Watson Patriots 26
20 Marcedes Lewis Jaguars 18
21 Brent Celek Eagles NR
22 Vernon Davis 49ers 14
23 Donald Lee Packers 25
24 Steve Heiden Browns NR
25 Kellen Winslow Browns 4
26 Robert Royal Bills 27
27 Jerramy Stevens Buccaneers 29
28 Daniel Graham Broncos NR
29 Anthony Fasano Dolphins 19
30 Alge Crumpler Titans NR

Notes: Not only is Tony Gonzalez clearly the No. 1 tight end in football right now, but he also has the most favorable schedule for tight ends. He'll play the Broncos, Chargers and Bengals in the season's final month, each of which has struggled at linebacker in a major way this season. … After Gonzo, of course, we're looking at a muddle in which no one can be counted on for weekly production. I left Antonio Gates and Jason Witten in their customary high spots because they always have the potential to give you a fantasy-game-changing performance, though those have been few and far between lately. … Dustin Keller has become a must-start; he's tied for second in targets among tight ends over the past five weeks, and many of those targets have come far down the field. … Zach Miller is the only guy JaMarcus Russell feels comfortable with, so he's a borderline No. 1 fantasy tight end most weeks. … Jeremy Shockey has 17 catches on his 26 targets the past four weeks, but is still looking for his first touchdown as a Saint. I think he'll get it sooner rather than later. … Kevin Boss has four touchdowns in six games and pretty consistently gets between four and eight targets most weeks. That's pretty good, especially with the new, more circumspect Eli Manning. … Brent Celek is starting these days for the Eagles in place of L.J. Smith.

Defense Rankings
RANK Name Two Weeks Ago
1 NY Giants 1
2 Baltimore 4
3 Tampa Bay 5
4 Pittsburgh 3
5 Tennessee 2
6 Green Bay 7
7 NY Jets 8
8 Dallas 12
9 Philadelphia 9
10 Carolina 6
11 Miami 10
12 Buffalo 13
13 Atlanta 20
14 Arizona 17
15 Indianapolis 19
16 Oakland 21
17 Minnesota 14
18 San Francisco 26
19 Seattle 23
20 Chicago 15
21 New England 11
22 Jacksonville 16
23 San Diego 22
24 Washington 18
25 New Orleans 28
26 Kansas City 30
27 Houston 24
28 Denver 27
29 Cleveland 31
30 Cincinnati 25
31 Detroit 32
32 St. Louis 29

Notes: The Cowboys have a tough schedule, but DeMarcus Ware is evidently all right, and they're playing very well. The return of Adam Jones should help their corner depth, too. … The Falcons have come on strong with 12 sacks, two touchdowns and a safety in their past five contests. Plus they have a schedule mostly comprised of less-than-frightening offenses: @NO (OK, that's an exception), TB, @MIN, STL. … The Cardinals have my favorite schedule for a fantasy defense the rest of the way: STL, MIN, @NE, SEA. The Vikings make big plays, but they also turn it over like crazy. … How about the Colts' next three games: CIN, DET, @JAC? Love it. Just sit 'em in that last one against the Titans. … The Vikings would be a lot higher on this list, but I'm paranoid about the defensive tackles potentially being gone. … The Patriots are just awful in the secondary. Deltha O'Neal is maybe the worst starter in the NFL. (Jason David? Anything to say in your defense?) I had the Patriots way too high a couple of weeks ago.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.