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Avoid starting local boy McMahon against Bucs

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2001

If you're the guy with Charlie Batch on your roster because you like Pittsburgh products, you're probably looking at North Allegheny's Mike McMahon as a replacement.

I like McMahon's long-term potential, but his first start of the season comes against a Tampa Bay defense that has come on strong as of late. The Bucs will pressure McMahon all day and force rookie mistakes. You can surely find a better solution if you need a quarterback.

Tony Banks is one of those potential fill-ins for this week. While Banks is likely available in most fantasy leagues, the Redskins face a Cardinals defense that has given up consecutive 300-yard passing games in the last three weeks.

The NFL season is a kind of ebb-and-flow thing, where defenses that start poorly improve and injuries cause sharp declines in others. Because of this, it is important to heavily weigh the last three to four weeks when you're considering your fantasy players' opponents.

Even though for the season the Colts defense is ranked in the middle of the pack, over the last four weeks they are the second-worst rushing defense in the league. You can reasonably expect Miami RB Lamar Smith to have a great outing Monday night.

The worst rushing defenses over the last month are Carolina and Oakland. The Panthers have given up an astonishing 182 yards rushing per game over the course of their last four games. Even if Travis Henry isn't normally a starter for your fantasy squad, there is absolutely no excuse for not having him in your game this week.

Non-fantasy stat of the week: This will be the first meeting of one-win teams in December since 1993 (Cincinnati vs. New England).

Take away Seattle's 319-yard rushing performance and the Raiders still allowed 150 yards per game on the ground in the month of November. If the Silver and Black can't stop Michael Pittman and Thomas Jones, how are they going to prevent Priest Holmes, the fifth leading rusher in the NFL, from having a career day?

Look for a huge day from Holmes, who will probably finish Sunday ahead of Jerome Bettis in rushing yardage.

In addition to the 12.5 points per game that the Steelers have allowed this season, a more impressive statistic is the 62 yards per game rushing that opponents have managed in the last four games. While Curtis Martin is only two yards behind Bettis as the league's leading rusher, he'll find yards difficult to come by. If you have any other palatable option at running back, you have to consider benching Martin for a week.

Peter Warrick looks like a nice play this week against a Jaguars defense that allowed both Bill Schroeder and Antonio Freeman to go over 100 yards receiving on Monday night. It was also against the Jags a couple of weeks ago that Hines Ward had one of his best performances of the season. Jon Kitna needs a good game to keep Akili Smith (remember him?) from regaining the starting position for the Bengals.

Lost in the spotlight of Brett Favre's stellar performance this season is the poor play of the Packers secondary. Often, Favre's comebacks are made necessary by the fact that even the league's average receivers are beating cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Tyrone Williams for long gains. Chicago's Marty Booker and Dez White are in a prime position to post quality yardage numbers.

Sometimes when examining matchups, you have to take into consideration what a player has done specifically against a particular opponent. Some things that defy reason - like the Jets current 10-game winning streak over the Dolphins - cannot be discounted when submitting your lineup.

Even more telling are individual performances against particular opponents. While Arizona's David Boston is currently leading the league in receiving yardage, his outings against this week's opponent have been rather pedestrian. In four career games against the Redskins, Boston has been held to eight catches for 156 yards.

Terrell Owens will be looking for reprisals this week when the 49ers travel to St. Louis for the offensive game of the week. Owens dropped four passes in the first meeting between the two teams and was the subject of derisive comments by several Rams defensive backs. Expect this game to be a shootout on both ends of the scoreboard.

In a previous meeting this season, Seattle's Shaun Alexander ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns against Denver. With no threat of foul weather in Denver this Sunday, there's no reason to expect that he won't have another fine day.

In his last two games against the Lions, Martin Gramatica is 6 for 6 in field goal attempts, including two 50-yarders.

Duane Cahill's Fantasy Football Insider appears every Thursday during the NFL season in the Tribune-Review.

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