With Aaron Gleeman being dispatched to Vegas to cover the MLB winter meetings last week, I've been sharing Rotoworld's Football Daily Dose duties with Mark St. Amant. I'll be up on Rotoworld's front page on Tuesday & Thursday mornings the rest of the season while St. Amant handles Wednesdays & Fridays. Here's Tuesday morning's dose:
On the line: first place in the NFC South and an inside track on homefield advantage for the playoffs. One week after suffering through a brutal quagmire between the reeling Jags and the Sage Rosenfels-led Texans, the Monday night stage was set for the biggest regular season game in Carolina's 14-year history. The clash of NFC South titans lived up to all of the hype -- and then some -- with an action-packed shootout.
Behind a monstrous 99-yard, two touchdown fourth quarter, DeAngelo Williams shattered the franchise record with 186 rushing yards. Rookie sidekick Jonathan Stewart chipped in 115 yards to help break the combined franchise rushing record the dynamic duo set only a month ago against Detroit.
To put the performance in perspective, the 301 combined rushing yards came against a defense that had allowed just one rushing touchdown and one 100-yard rusher all season long. The 464 total yards by the Panthers was the second highest total against the Bucs in the 13-year Monte Kiffin era in Tampa Bay. Even better, it was the first time in the 88-year NFL history that two teammates have gone over 100 yards at 7.0 yards per carry with two touchdowns apiece.
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The Giants' Earth, Wind and Fire stable of backs have stolen the spotlight this season, but Carolina's "Smash and Dash" duo has been the most prolific tagteam in the league. Williams is up to 1,141 rushing yards with a franchise record 15 total touchdowns in a breakthrough season while Stewart is at 699 rushing yards with eight touchdowns. Williams in particular has been a godsend for fantasy owners with a score in seven straight weeks.
The Carolina backfield overshadowed two fine performances by wide receivers. Antonio Bryant became just the second Buccaneer in history to reach the 200-yard mark and added two touchdowns on nine receptions. Bryant's effort included the two longest plays (50 and 52 yard catches) by the Buccaneers all season plus the most impressive one-handed touchdown catch we've seen all year. Now up to 936 receiving yards and five touchdowns with three games left to play, Bryant has his once promising career back on track after sitting out all of the 2007 season.
Steve Smith matched Bryant's reception total but managed "just" 117 yards and one touchdown. This marks the third straight 100-yard performance by Smith and, more impressively, the eighth time in the last ten games that he has posted at least 95 yards.
The Panthers are now 10-3 and in control of their own destiny in the NFC. They have the Broncos at home – where they are 7-0 -- next week before traveling to New York for what is shaping up to be a battle for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
* After suffering an ankle injury in Week 14 against the Jets, Frank Gore insists he's going to play in his hometown of Miami this week. Coach Mike Singletary was less optimistic, saying only that Gore will be "evaluated through the week" and has not been ruled out for Sunday.
If Gore can't go, the Niners would likely use a committee attack in the backfield. DeShaun Foster managed just 35 yards on 16 carries against the Jets after coming on to replace Gore. Jack-of-all-trades Michael Robinson would likely see some short yardage action, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz is reportedly very high on practice squad back Thomas Clayton. Considering the Dolphins stout run defense, this is a situation for fantasy leaguers to avoid unless Gore shows a miraculous recovery during the week.
* The Cowboys are now saying that Marion Barber missed Week 14 due to a calf injury he sustained in practice last week, not his dislocated toe. The calf injury popped up as he tried to compensate for his bad toe, and Barber reportedly would have played against the Steelers if it was just a toe issue.
Dallas is giving Barber a "good" chance to return in Week 15 against the Giants, but owners should expect another game-day decision. Of equal concern is the possibility of Tashard Choice sharing the load on the heels of his impressive performance in Pittsburgh. If MBIII's injuries limit him Sunday, Choice will further dampen his fantasy value.
* Though Brandon Jacobs said the knee injury he suffered against the Eagles was "nothing serious," he admitted that he aggravated a previous injury. Coach Tom Coughlin was vague, saying only that Jacobs was "sore" while calling the injury "an ongoing thing." Jacobs is not a lock to play against Dallas in Week 15 and will likely end up a full blown game-time decision once again.
* Following Peyton Hillis' season-ending hamstring injury, former cell phone kiosk supervisor Tatum Bell is expected to take over as Denver's sixth starting running back this season. The remaining schedule (@ CAR, vs. BUF, @ SD) is fantasy friendly, but Bell will likely rotate with P.J. Pope, Selvin Young, and/or Cory Boyd. With the Broncos set to turn to a pass-heavy offense, playoff owners won't want to count on Bell as more than a high-risk flex play going forward.