Associated Press Writer
Forget the holiday cheer. It's the bitter season in fantasy football.
Fantasy players everywhere are hacked at one underperforming player or another who led their teams to playoff defeat, with office conversations across the country beginning with, ``You know who killed me?''
Come on, Brian Westbrook. Taking a dive on the 1-yard line rather than taking the meaningless touchdown? Sure, it was a smart play for his real team, but he should have considered the fantasy implications. The Eagles' playoff hopes are shot, but he didn't need to take fantasy teams down with him.
And what about Tom Brady? It's shocking that he'd let mere forces of nature slow his superhuman touchdown output. That Tony Romo has a lot of nerve, too, going scoreless all because of a little sore thumb. And Jessica Simpson should just stay in Hollywood and quit jinxing quarterbacks from the stands.
(Personally, I'm angry at Matt Hasselbeck for not fully comprehending how awful the Panthers are and at Eli Manning for not knowing how to throw the ball to a specific location.)
As you remember the importance of forgiveness, here's a look at players to start in Week 16, some to avoid, and a few long shots who just might pan out:
-On the off chance Tom Brady's stat-free performance didn't kill your title hopes, don't overreact by benching him unless it's snowing. The Patriots proved the point that they can run, and they won't feel the need to be kind of nice now that the Dolphins have a win.
-It's getting a little dicey for owners of Colts, who've clinched all they're going to clinch and tend to rest players once that happens. But Peyton Manning should delay Jim Sorgi time for a week or so.
-Weather permitting, start Derek Anderson and Carson Palmer in the rematch of the year's best fantasy game. That was back in Week 2, when Anderson (328 yards, 5 TDs) led the Browns past Palmer (401 yards, 6 TDs) in a 51-45 game featuring 1,084 yards of offense.
-Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck deserves another chance if he didn't knock you out of the playoffs. He's always better at home, and the Ravens have a serious esteem problem with a loss to the Dolphins capping an eight-game losing streak.
-Now that Brady was bad once and the Raiders actually stopped a running back we're down to one NFL certainty: Somebody will have a big passing day against the Saints. This week it'll be Donovan McNabb.
-Lost in the collapse of Detroit's run defense is the collapse of the pass defense. The Lions now are tied with Cleveland for most TDs allowed (27), giving the Chiefs' Brodie Croyle a shot as his best day yet of learning-by-doing.
Please, in the name of David Archer, don't start these guys:
-San Diego's Philip Rivers is already applying his postseason instructions to just hand the ball to L.T. and not try anything fancy.
-Speaking of inadequate passing in San Diego on Sunday, bench Jay Cutler. He's been weak on the road (6 TDs, compared to 12 at home) and the Chargers defense is getting scary again.
-We're all very touched by Shaun Hill's rags to slightly better rags story in San Francisco, but Tampa Bay's No. 2 pass defense should squelch that tiny ray of optimism.
-Wasn't Jacksonville's Fred Taylor supposed to be ancient? The 31-year-old has four straight 100-yard games and faces an Oakland run defense that can't possibly be good two straight weeks.
-In other news about guys who've supposedly had it, Jamal Lewis is on pace for his best year since going for 2,000 yards in 2003. He's rushed for 100 yards in three of his past four games and went for 216 against Cincinnati the first time.
-Don't bench Washington's Clinton Portis, even against the impenetrable Vikings. He should catch enough dump-off passes to make up for the many 1-yard jaunts into the NFL-best run defense.
-Even a rusty Larry Johnson's a good start if he returns for the Chiefs. If not, go with Kolby Smith against the Lions. In Detroit's last three games, four different running backs have scored twice.
-For once the Cardinals won't have to pass every down, so Edgerrin James could go for 100 yards and a score for the first time since Week 2. He faces the Falcons' 27th-ranked run defense.
-There's an outside chance someone in Detroit has realized ditching the running game so Jon Kitna can throw 50 times will get you a six-game losing streak, so Kevin Jones may be worth a start.
-Don't assume Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson's a lock for another 100-yard, one-score game like the one he had the first time against the Browns. Cleveland's actually tightened up a bit on defense, and Johnson couldn't even dominate the 49ers.
-Denver's Travis Henry is making the least of his shared time with Selvin Young. Henry hasn't cracked the 30-yard mark the past two weeks.
-Stop playing Chester Taylor now that the Vikings have stopped pretending he's sharing the job with Adrian Peterson. Taylor had five carries Monday night, while Peterson had 20.
-Cleveland's Braylon Edwards should have little problem going for at least 146 yards and a couple scores, which he had in the first game against Cincinnati. And that was before the Bengals quit.
-Who needs Javon Walker? The Broncos have decided the 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall should catch all the balls. He has 26 catches, 222 yards and two scores in his past two games.
-It doesn't matter who the quarterback is. Houston's Andre Johnson can walk, so he'll score, even against the Colts' top-ranked pass defense. He has seven TDs in the seven games he's played in this year.
-The Lions decided to mix things up and throw to a big, fast first-round pick rather than former third-string Rams. They just might do it again after Calvin Johnson put up his first 100-yard game.
-It's worrisome to start anybody catching passes from Todd Collins (officially the oldest guy in the league to never really do anything). But Collins should find Santana Moss in a dome against the Vikings' NFL-worst pass defense.
-The Packers will still be throwing because they still need to win for a chance to steal home-field advantage from Dallas. So maybe this is where you play the odds that Donald Driver has to score again sometime. (His last TD came 11 games and 62 catches ago.)
-Oh, just give up on the Giants' Plaxico Burress, already. He'll be limping through the elements again while trying to field Eli Manning passes that look like those wobbly kicks in Australian rules football.
-Anybody who saw Kyle Orton's season debut for Chicago doesn't need further explanation of why you should keep Bernard Berrian on the bench.
-Speaking of end-of-season QB tryouts, Chris Redman's has ended the brief fantasy success story of Roddy White. He has four catches the past two games.
Pick up these guys if they're available in your league: QB Shaun Hill (TD pass, TD run), WR Roydell Williams (94 yards, 2 TDs), RB Dominic Rhodes (more play with Justin Fargas out), RB LaMont Jordan (more play with Fargas out), RB Darren Sproles (122 yards, 2 TDs), QB Chad Pennington, QB Matt Moore (some competence), WR Greg Camarillo (109 yards, TD, Miami win).
Here's the best and worst of last week's projections:
Big Hits: I expected good things for Kurt Warner (3 TDs), Ben Roethlisberger (3 TDs), Laurence Maroney (104 yards, TD), Adrian Peterson (2 TDs), Marques Colston (114 yards, TD) and Willis McGahee (104 yards). I figured Jon Kitna's real mistakes (5 INTs) wouldn't kill his fantasy stats (302 yards, 2 TDs).
Big Misses: I expected big days for Tony Romo (3 INTs, 0 TDs), Terrell Owens (37 yards), Plaxico Burress (35 yards) and Joey Galloway (7 yards). I didn't expect much from Fred Taylor (147 yards, TD), Clinton Portis (126 yards, TD) or Anthony Gonzalez (86 yards, TD).

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