MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
These third-year backs broke out last season by carrying their respective teams
to the AFC Championship Game. But will either have much room to run when they
go head-to-head in Week 9?
After splitting time with Mike Anderson last season and Mike Bell early this
year, the 2004 second-round pick out of Oklahoma State finally become Denver's
main man--or so it seemed until Sunday, when the time-share reared its head
again in a loss to the Colts: Mike Bell got more carries (15--13) and outgained
Tatum 136--27. Mike also ran for two touchdowns, which matched Tatum's season
The undrafted speedster also broke free of a time-share this season (he split
the load with Jerome Bettis last year), but the results have been mixed. Parker
has rushed for 100-plus yards three times this year but followed those
performances with totals of 20, 57 and 47 yards, with just one TD in those
games. Overall, however, he has rushed for five scores (on just 148 carries),
ranking him fifth in rushing TDs.
Denver's and Pittsburgh's defenses hold their opponents to fewer than 95
rushing yards per game, so neither back figures to break the century mark. But
as long as coach Mike Shanahan gives him the chance, Bell's the better bet to
reach the end zone this week; the Broncos have yet to allow a rushing TD.
THE INSIDE MAN
Owners who feared that K.C.'s Tony Gonzalez was washed up should breathe a lot
IT LOOKS as if there's hope for owners of Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez after
all. A perennial fantasy stud and one of the game's best at his position, the
30-year-old Gonzalez was one of the biggest early-season disappointments, with
only 187 receiving yards through his first five games. While critics thought
those numbers indicated a decline in Gonzalez's skills, they were more the
product of a hamstrung Kansas City offense.
turnover at offensive tackle-- Willie Roaf's retirement on the left side and
Kyle Turley's back injury on the right--Gonzalez had to block more than in
previous years. Only in the last two games, as Jordan Black and Kevin Sampson
have settled into the tackle spots, have the Chiefs stressed getting Gonzalez
the ball. In Week 7 he had six catches for a season-high 138 yards against the
Chargers, then followed that with six catches for 116 yards against the
Seahawks on Sunday. Gonzalez owners can expect similar production in the weeks
ahead. "We feel like we can release him more [on pass plays] now," says
K.C. coach Herman Edwards. "He's a big weapon in our offense, and we have
to get him going."
Like Gonzalez, Broncos wideout Javon Walker is beginning to pay dividends.
Though the Denver offense has been surprisingly conservative over the first few
weeks, he has delivered when called upon, including a nine-catch, 107-yard day
against the Browns in Week 7 and a TD catch against the Colts on Sunday. He'll
put up even bigger numbers as the coaches develop trust in quarterback Jake
Plummer and his young receivers, such as wideout David Kircus and rookie tight
end Tony Scheffler. "You don't know what you've got until you try,"
Walker says. "Hopefully we'll make them more comfortable with going
WES IS MORE
Dolphins wide receiver Wes Welker wasn't on many rosters when the fantasy
season began, but now he's worth a spot--and he'll become more valuable as
Miami finds ways to energize its attack. Though he was mainly a return
specialist when the season started, Welker already has caught 39 passes for 393
yards. Says one assistant coach who has faced the Dolphins, "He's the most
underestimated guy in the NFL. He's legit--faster than you think. He's their
big-play, go-to receiver."