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Week 16 fantasy matchups


Not only do weather and injuries play a huge factor in setting lineups this time of year, but now fantasy owners have an extra challenge: Trying to figure out the mindset of coaches whose teams have nothing to play for. That applies to teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention -- do they want to audition young players for next season? -- as well as those that might be locked into a playoff position.

It's an unwelcome headache, especially since any fantasy owners still playing this week are in the playoffs and possibly the title game for their league.

Here's a look at key fantasy matchups for Week 16:

Cowboys at Panthers

The most important player for the Dallas this week? It's Cory Procter. This undrafted free agent out of Montana fills in for injured center Andre Gurode and will be making his first career start. Not only will Procter be relied on to block well, but he'll need to do a good job snapping the ball to QB Tony Romo and his injured thumb… That said, Romo is set to start and I look for him to have a big day here. I also like RB Marion Barber, but keep in mind that Julius Jones has a good history against the Panthers -- in two career games against Carolina, he's rushed for 286 yards and 3 TDs. WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten also should do well.

I really don't think anyone on Carolina will do much here. Rookie Matt Moore starts at QB, and the Panthers as a team have just 8 TD passes in their last 11 games.

Giants at Bills

The Giants aren't playing all that well right now, but they are 6-1 on the road and need a win to clinch a playoff spot. In order, I like QB Eli Manning, WR Plaxico Burress and RB Brandon Jacobs. Buffalo ranks 30th overall on defense.

For Buffalo, I like RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Trent Edwards, and WR Lee Evans. The Bills are the first team to boast a rookie QB with at least 1,200 yards passing and a rookie RB with at least 900 yards rushing since the 1989 Lions (with Rodney Peete and Barry Sanders). The Giants are seventh overall on defense.

Packers at Bears

For Green Bay, I like the skill players in this order: QB Brett Favre, WR Greg Jennings (who has 12 TD receptions), RB Ryan Grant, and WR Donald Driver (who's playing great, although he's only scored two TDs). Green Bay is third on offense, and the Bears are 29th on defense.

I don't think there's anyone you can play on offense for Chicago, unless you want to take a chance that return ace Devin Hester will be more involved in the offense. The Bears started throwing to him more last week.

Browns at Bengals
It should be cold and rainy for this game -- of course, that's better conditions than Cleveland played in last week.

These teams combined for 96 points in their first meeting, with 11 TD passes thrown. Look for the Browns to be productive again. In order, I like: RB Jamal Lewis, WR Braylon Edwards, QB Derek Anderson, and TE Kellen Winslow.

Which Bengals offense will we see here? Cincinnati ranks seventh overall, and it faces a Cleveland defense ranked 32nd. QB Carson Palmer threw for 401 yards and 6 TDs in the first meeting. I also like WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson -- who has something to play for since he was not voted to the Pro Bowl. RB Kenny Watson might get some good all-purpose yards.

Chiefs at Lions

There's a possibility that RB Larry Johnson may play -- it's worth keeping an eye on that. Otherwise, the Chiefs will throw long to WR Dwayne Bowe to stretch the defense but they have a hard time making plays. Kansas City quarterbacks have been sacked 48 times, third most in the NFL. The Chiefs average only 14 points a game, but Detroit's defense gives Kansas City a fighting chance. Last week, San Diego had 27 points after 32 offensive plays against Detroit.

You can run on the Chiefs, so I like Lions RB Kevin Jones here. After that, I like QB Jon Kitna and WR Shaun McDonald.

Texans at Colts

I think Houston will play tough here, as it is a young team with a chance to win eight games for the first time in franchise history. The Colts defense can be stingy, but I like WR Andre Johnson, QB Sage Rosenfels, RB Ron Dayne and TE Owen Daniels.

The question for Indianapolis is: Who will play and for how long? Remember, Tony Dungy has a history of resting his stars if there's nothing to play for, and the Colts are locked into the No. 2 seed. That said, QB Peyton Manning is 357 yards short of reaching 4,000 yards -- and he would be the first player ever to pass for 4,000 yards eight times. In order, I also like WR Reggie Wayne, WR Anthony Gonzalez and TE Dallas Clark. I think we'll see a lot of RB Kenton Keith this week -- Joseph Addai has not rushed for 100 yards in his last six games, and Dungy will want to keep him rested for the playoffs.

Raiders at Jaguars

This is Oakland's first-ever trip to Jacksonville. Both teams have averaged a combined 23 points per game in their past three games. One redeeming fact for the Raiders -- they haven't allowed a sack in the last three games. Still, RB Justin Fargas is out, and I don't see anyone else on the Raiders worth playing.

For the Jaguars, I think RB Fred Taylor will come out strong in the wake of missing out on the Pro Bowl. RB Maurice Jones-Drew and QB David Garrard should do well, and I think Reggie Williams will continue to be the main WR threat.

Dolphins at Patriots

There's really nobody on the Dolphins worth playing in this game.

There is a chance that Miami DE Jason Taylor is out for this game, making it even more appealing than usual to play any and all Patriots stars. They need five more touchdowns to break the NFL single-season record, and they need 34 points to break the single-season scoring mark. New England averages 37 points and 413 yards per game, so it's clearly within reach. QB Tom Brady and WR Randy Moss are within reach of individual records, and I think the Patriots will try to get those guys the records here in the regular-season home finale. I also like RB Laurence Maroney and WR Wes Welker in that order. One interesting side note: 21 different players have scored a touchdown for New England this season, tying an NFL record. If the Pats are looking to break the record, which player who has yet to score do you think will be given the chance? Chad Jackson? Junior Seau?

Eagles at Saints

These teams met twice last year and the score was 27-24 both times… QB Donovan McNabb has 5 TD passes and 1 INT in three games vs. New Orleans. I like RB Brian Westbrook. Check the injury status of WR Reggie Brown -- if he's in the lineup I think he'll have a good game because the Saints' secondary will be focused on stopping Kevin Curtis.

For New Orleans, I like QB Drew Brees, WRs Marques Colston and David Patten, and RB Aaron Stecker. In the two games last year against the Eagles, Brees had 4 TD passes and 2 INTs.

Falcons at Cardinals

I don't like anyone for Atlanta. The Falcons are the lowest-scoring team in the league. One side note: Warrick Dunn is only the third RB in NFL history under 5-foot-9 to gain 10,000 yards for his career. The other two are Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

For the Cardinals, in order, I like: QB Kurt Warner, WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Edgerrin James, and WR Anquan Boldin, who is supposed to be back for this game. Arizona averages 23 points per game and plays well at home.

Ravens at Seahawks
The last time these teams met was in 2003, and it was a wild, 44-41 game. Don't expect that much scoring here, especially from the Ravens. In fact, RB Willis McGahee is really the only Raven worth playing here.

For Seattle, I like QB Matt Hasselbeck and the receivers, in this order: Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram. The Seahawks' running game has been almost non-existent. They had 44 yards rushing last week, and 20 came on one run by Shaun Alexander.

Jets at Titans

I think the Jets will have a hard time moving the ball on Tennessee's fifth-ranked defense. This could very well be a letdown game following their big effort last week in New England. I don't think it's worth playing anyone.

For the Titans, QB Vince Young is playing a lot better. I like RB LenDale White a little, and you might take a flier on Roydell Williams if you're desperate for a receiver.

Buccaneers at 49ers

I think QB Jeff Garcia will play well in his return to San Francisco. The Bucs have have already clinched a playoff spot and are locked into hosting a first-round game, but I still think you can get good production from RB Earnest Graham and WR Joey Galloway.

For the 49ers, RB Frank Gore is the only play. The Tampa Bay defense is third overall and first in scoring. More importantly, it has a plus-14 turnover differential.

Redskins at Vikings

For Washington, I like QB Todd Collins, WRs Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, and TE Chris Cooley. You have to play RB Clinton Portis, but it's really, really hard to run on the Vikings, who allow 68 rushing yards per game and have allowed 6 rushing TDs all season.

Minnesota quietly had seven players named to the Pro Bowl, including six starters. In this game, I like QB Tarvaris Jackson and WR Sidney Rice. Be careful with RBs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor because Washington's run defense is also pretty good. Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will scheme to take Peterson out and force Jackson to beat them.

Broncos at Chargers

For Denver, TE Daniel Graham likely is out -- and that hurts the running game. I like QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall, but that's it.

For San Diego, it should be noted that RB LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 204 yards in the first meeting with Denver this season, and Denver's run defense is still struggling. I also like QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates.