Talk about a conundrum.
Clinton Portis was the best running back in fantasy football in the first half of the season. He rushed for 100-plus yards in five consecutive games and scored seven times in the first eight weeks. Such numbers vaulted him past LaDainian Tomlinson and into the top spot among running backs in the National Football League. He was the unquestioned king of the fantasy hill.
That was until the injuries started to build.
Portis was handed a tremendous workload in the offense of new coach Jim Zorn. He recorded 187 carries after eight weeks, which put him on pace to finish the season with 374. That would have been a single-season high. His previous high was 352 carries, recorded in 2005. He missed half of the following season due to shoulder and hand injuries.
That might have been a look into the future for Portis, whose heavy burden of carries this season has resulted in knee, hip, ribcage and neck injuries.
Since his 126-yard performance against the Detroit Lions in late October, Portis has produced just one 100-yard game and has failed to score even once. He's also averaged a mere nine fantasy points per game on NFL.com since Week 9. His latest disappointment came against the New York Giants, as Portis rushed for 22 yards on 11 carries. It was his worst performance of the season, both between the white lines and in fantasy circles.
That has owners asking the question that's long been coming -- is it time to bench Portis?
Well, the answer depends on your roster. I've always been a stick-with-your-studs kind of fantasy owner. In fact, I have Portis in two 12-team leagues and have started him week in and week out. I also don't have the sort of backfield depth that would allow me to replace him with a legitimate option.
In other words, I either start Portis or roll the dice with someone like Pierre Thomas. Sure, Thomas has been a nice find off the waiver wire, but can you bench a featured back of Portis' caliber for a committee runner?
Of course, countless fantasy leaguers are in a much better situation.
With the emergence of several backs this season, it's possible to have Portis, Michael Turner and Chris Johnson on the same team. So in a situation such as this one, I would have benched Portis against the Giants based on his injuries and each runner's individual matchups. But coming off another bad stat line and a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens and their third-ranked run defense next on the schedule, it might be time to consider benching Portis altogether.
But is that really the right move to make?
It's impossible to make a blanket statement on Portis, because every situation is different. But I'd consider the circumstances surrounding Brian Westbrook in Week 13. Like Portis, Westbrook is one of the premier running backs in fantasy football. He was riddled with various injuries, coming off three consecutive bad games and heading into a short week against a good Cardinals run defense. That caused 35 percent of owners who had Westbrook on their roster to bench him in favor of another back or flex starter.
He went on to score four total touchdowns.
The best advice I can give you is to make a decision that makes you feel comfortable. Yes, Portis is at less than 100 percent. Yes, he's done next to nothing in his last two games. And yes, he's facing one of the league's most ferocious run defenses on their home field.
If these three factors sway you to bench Portis, even it's in favor of a lesser running back with a great matchup like Peyton Hillis, Tim Hightower or even a backup like Chester Taylor (who faces the Detroit Lions), I can't argue with the move at all.
Alright, let's move on to some of the best and worst performances of Week 13.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia (37 points): The aforementioned Westbrook broke out of his three-week statistical slide with a monster performance last Thursday night, rushing for 110 yards and finding the end zone four times in a win over the Cardinals. While it's easier to start him after this successful stat line, Westbrook does have a much tougher matchup next on the schedule -- he heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia (36 points): Less than a week after coach Andy Reid pulled him out of a game due to performance issues, McNabb made a loud statement with his right arm against the Cardinals. The veteran quarterback threw for 260 yards with a season-best four touchdowns and led countless fantasy leaguers to an all-important win. The 36 fantasy points were more than he'd scored in his previous three games combined.
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DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina (32 points): Williams might have rushed for just 72 yards against the Packers, but his four, one-yard touchdown runs made him a top scorer in fantasy land. He's now scored at least one touchdown in each of his last five games and has nine total scores in that time. Despite the presence of rookie Jonathan Stewart, Williams has developed into an elite running back in all fantasy football leagues.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay (31 points): The Packers might have lost their last two games, but Rodgers has still finished each contest with terrific numbers. In a nail-bitter at Lambeau Field, he threw for 298 yards with three touchdown passes in a loss to the Panthers. Rodgers now ranks third in fantasy points among all positions on NFL.com, trailing Kurt Warner by nine points and top-scorer Drew Brees by only 16 points.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas (30 points): Romo lit up the Seahawks like a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-9 win. The talented signal-caller has now thrown for 300 or more yards six times and has tossed three touchdown passes in six of his last eight starts. Despite a tough matchup against the Steelers next on the schedule, Romo remains a must-start in all leagues in Week 14.
Matt Cassel, QB, New England (minus-2 points): Cassel entered Week 13 as one of the hottest quarterbacks in fantasy land, but the top-rated Steelers defense threw cold water all over him. He was held to 169 passing yards with no touchdowns in the 33-10 loss. Cassel also committed four turnovers in the one-sided contest. On the bright side, Cassel does have a great matchup this week against Seattle.
Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore (0 points): McGahee saw zero carries in a win over the Bengals and has now scored one fantasy point in the last three weeks. While his lack of production has been a killer for owners, it's not time to release McGahee. In fact, coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun that McGahee is "going to be a big part [of the team] in December." For now, McGahee should be benched in all formats.
Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis (1 point): Manning put up a real stinker against the Browns, throwing for 125 yards with no touchdowns and three turnovers. He would finish with one fantasy point -- his worst week of the season -- in a week when countless fantasy playoff berths were at stake. If you were able to survive these terrible and forgettable totals, Manning should make it up to you in Week 14 against the Bengals.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego (2 points): Gates finished a loss to the Falcons with a mere 27 yards on three catches. He appeared to be slowed in the contest due to some sort of ailment, which could explain his recent Houdini act over the last three weeks. Since a 12-point performance in Week 10, Gates has scored a combined five points. Despite the numbers, it's still hard to sit Gates this week against the Raiders.
Santana Moss, WR, Washington (3 points): Moss started the season with double-digit fantasy points in five of his first eight games, but he's averaged just 3.2 points on NFL.com in the last three weeks. What's more, Moss hasn't scored a touchdown since late October. He'll look to reverse his fortunes against the Ravens, but Moss' stock has fallen fast. He's more of a No. 3 fantasy wideout based on his recent totals.
Other notables: Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay (3 points); Braylon Edwards, WR, Cleveland (3 points); Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans (3 points).