From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Several prominent running backs go down with injuries. It was a very rough day for fantasy owners who started Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Michael Turner and Brian Westbrook in Week 10. Let's start off with Turner, who did rush for 111 yards against the Panthers before leaving with an injured ankle. He was seen wearing a boot after the contest, and reports indicate the ailment could be serious. In his absence, Jason Snelling totaled three receptions, 93 scrimmage yards and one touchdown. With Jerious Norwood still out due to an injured hip, Snelling is the back to target off the waiver wire.
Unfortunately, there is no one to target for those fantasy owners who lost Brown. He hurt his ankle against the Buccaneers, and it could be tough for him to return because the Dolphins have a short week with a Thursday night game against the Panthers. Ricky Williams will be a must-start option if Brown does indeed miss the contest against a Carolina defense that ranks in the lower half of the league against the run this season.
Westbrook, who had missed two previous games with a concussion, suffered yet another head injury in a loss to the Chargers. Based on the caution teams now have with these sort of injuries, I wouldn't be shocked to see Westbrook miss several weeks (if not the rest of the season). In his absence, LeSean McCoy becomes a viable No. 2 fantasy back or flex starter who has added value in PPR leagues. Leonard Weaver should also see more carries, but his value is limited to larger leagues.
Benson suffered the least serious of the injuries, leaving a Week 10 win over the Steelers with a hip flexor. Benson hopes to be ready for Week 11, but fantasy owners who've leaned on the veteran back should add Bernard Scott as insurance. The rookie would be a viable flex starter if he's forced into action against the Raiders, whose defense has been awful against the run in 2009.
2. Chris Johnson continues his torrid streak of success. To say that Johnson has been good in the last three weeks is like saying Megan Fox is kinda cute. The versatile runner out of East Carolina exploded in his third straight game, posting nine catches, 232 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in a 41-17 win over the Bills. Johnson has now averaged an incredible 32.3 fantasy points on NFL.com since Week 8. With games against the Texans, Cardinals, Colts, Rams and Chargers down the stretch, he's going to lead a lot of fantasy owners to a league championship. Not coincidentally, Johnson's hot stretch has come in line with the insertion of Vince Young into the starting lineup.
Young, who has topped the Titans' depth chart since Week 8, has looked more poised and confident under center than ever before. It's showing in the standings and the stat sheet as well. The Titans are undefeated with Young at the helm, and their offense has averaged an amazing 35 points per game. Johnson has benefitted the most from a fantasy perspective, but Young's value is on the rise as well. He's now worth a roster spot in most leagues as at least a reserve. He could even be a low-end starter in those formats that require owners to start two quarterbacks. His numbers aren't enormous, but Young has averaged around 14 fantasy points on NFL.com since taking over the top spot.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew owes fantasy owners six points! Remember when Westbrook took a knee at the Cowboys 1-yard line, costing owners six points? Well, it happened again, this time with Jones-Drew. Rather than cross the goal line on a sure touchdown and an additional six fantasy points, Jones-Drew went down on his own at the Jets' 1-yard line in an effort to kill the clock and allow his team a shot at a game-winning field goal. Josh Scobee would make good on the attempt, leading to a 24-22 win.
Jones-Drew, a fantasy owner himself, apologized to the fantasy masses after the game. He even admitted that he had himself in a league, "so it was a tough call." If you have Pocket Hercules and lose by six or fewer points, well, you'll always remember this week for his decision to kneel down at the goal line rather than cross the end zone. But it's hard to complain about Jones-Drew. After all, he still scored 20 fantasy points on NFL.com against the Jets and ranks second in points at his position after 10 weeks.
4. The old LaDainian Tomlinson showed up in Week 10. I've been pretty hard on Tomlinson ever since the preseason, but I have to admit that he showed me up in Week 10. Despite a tough matchup against the Eagles and their top-10 run defense, Tomlinson still rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He actually broke tackles and looked like the fantasy superstar we've known and loved. What was the reason for this sudden transformation? Well, it could be that Tomlinson found out before the game that he was going to be a father. Whatever it was, fantasy owners were certainly thankful to get the 21 fantasy points Tomlinson delivered despite what was a very formidable matchup on paper.
Despite this strong performance, however, Tomlinson is still on pace to rush for a career-low 770 yards based on his current numbers. And while he does have some attractive matchups against the Chiefs, Browns and Titans down the stretch, I still wouldn't trust him as more than a No. 2 fantasy back. With Vincent Jackson seeing double coverage throughout the Eagles game (he was targeted just three times), the Chargers were forced to run the ball more, use the middle of the field with Antonio Gates and take fewer chances downfield. That's not going to be the norm for a team that's become so prolific through the air. As a result, don't get too used to Tomlinson being this good.
5. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning explode on Sunday night. The talk around water coolers this morning might surround the decision of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to go for it on fourth down on his side of the field, rather than punt and trust his defense. But if you're a fantasy enthusiast, you're talking about the monster stat lines Brady and Manning produced in this AFC shootout. Manning threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns to finish with 33 fantasy points. Two of his scores went to Reggie Wayne, who had a monster night of his own. Brady thrived as well, posting 375 yards with three touchdowns and 31 fantasy points. Brady's top option in the pass attack, Randy Moss, also had a huge game with nine catches, 179 yards and two touchdowns. The quartet of Brady, Manning, Wayne and Moss combined for an unbelievable 117 fantasy points in standard leagues.
News and notes
» Seahawks RB Justin Forsett is going to be a hot name on the fantasy waiver wire. In place of injured RB Julius Jones, he posted five receptions, 149 scrimmage yards and one touchdown in a loss to the Cardinals. If Jones is forced to miss significant time, Forsett would step in and be the starter moving forward. While he does have a tough game in Minnesota next on the schedule, Forsett could still be a viable flex starter in most leagues.
» Remember when Bills RB Fred Jackson looked like a fantasy superstar earlier in the season? Or when RB Marshawn Lynch was a viable first-round pick in fantasy drafts? As good as they've been as individuals, they've been just as bad as a tandem. Jackson has averaged a mere five fantasy points in his last four games, while Lynch hasn't been much better (6.2 PPG). Even against favorable opponents, it's become impossible to trust either back.
» Lions RB Kevin Smith continues to be a disappointment in fantasy circles. He scored just four points in Week 10 and has now averaged 6.6 points in his last five games. Whether he's still being troubled by an injured shoulder or is just in a sophomore slump, Smith has become more of a liability than an asset. What's more, he has just one more favorable matchup (Week 11 vs. Browns) before facing a much more difficult list of defensive units.
» It's been hard to gauge the backfield situation in Arizona, but it looks like it's trending in the direction of Beanie Wells. While Tim Hightower continues to be the starter, it was Wells who saw more carries and more red-zone touches against the Seahawks. He's also averaging a solid 5.3 yards per carry over his last four games. The rookie suddenly looks like a very nice flex option with games against the Rams and Titans upcoming.
» I had Jaguars WR Mike Sims-Walker listed as having an unfavorable matchup against the Jets (and CB Darrelle Revis) and warned fantasy owners about it heading into Week 10. But for some reason, the Jets used CBs Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery on Sims-Walker in the first half, and he made them pay with a touchdown catch. Once the Jets rolled Revis over to cover Sims-Walker, however, the wideout posted just one reception for four yards.
» Broncos QB Kyle Orton was on his way to a monster fantasy performance, throwing for 193 yards and two touchdowns before an injured ankle landed him on the sidelines. If Orton is unable to return in time for Week 11, the Broncos would turn to QB Chris Simms. He was awful in Orton's absence against the Redskins and would have no fantasy value even atop the depth chart. In fact, owners might want to downgrade their Broncos if Simms starts in Week 11.
» Cowboys WR Miles Austin is starting to draw double coverage from opposing defenses, and it's showing in his fantasy numbers. In his last two games, Austin has a combined five catches and just 12 fantasy points. The fact that he's drawing attention has been good for WR Roy Williams, though. The veteran wideout has posted 10 catches for 180 yards and 21 fantasy points since Week 9. Williams also has more targets than Austin in that time as well.
» Did the Madden curse strike again? Steelers SS Troy Polamalu left his Week 10 game against the Bengals with a left knee injury, and reports suggest he could miss a few games. Polamalu has already missed time due to the ailment, and his potential absence makes the Steelers pass defense much more vulnerable to opposing offenses. Luckily, they play the Chiefs and Raiders in two of their next three games, so the Steelers will remain a No. 1 fantasy defense.