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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fantasy football: It's now or never for Chris Johnson and Philip Rivers

The perception -- if you look strictly at Chris Johnson's 2011 statistics -- is he got paid, then checked out.

Johnson -- after holding out of training camp, then signing a four-year, $53 million contract extension -- has 93 carries for 268 yards (2.9 yards per attempt) and one touchdown in six games for the Titans. In point-per-reception leagues, he has gone from awful to mediocre, thanks to 24 catches for 143 yards.

The same player who rushed for 2,006 yards, scored 16 touchdowns and had 50 receptions for 503 yards in 2009 is now being benched or furiously shopped in fantasy leagues.

Johnson had 23 carries for 101 yards against the Browns on Oct. 12. In Tennessee's other five contests, he has 69 rushes for 167 yards (2.4). Aside from the Browns matchup, he hasn't rushed for more than 53 yards in a game.

If you own Johnson, a few words of advice: Don't trade him. Not now, when his value is lower than it's been in his entire four-year career.

Instead, take a look back, and ahead, at the Titans' schedule.

Thus far, Johnson has faced the Jaguars (No. 10 vs. the run), Ravens (No. 3), Broncos (tied for 18th), Browns (No. 20), Steelers (No. 12) and Texans (No. 7).

Granted, a $13.25-million-a-year back should produce against the 2000 Ravens defense.

Ignore for a second the possibility that the combination of Johnson getting his money and missing training camp is a worse combination than Eddy Curry and a guaranteed contract, and consider this:

The Titans' schedule for Weeks 8 through 16 (championship week in fantasy) lines up quite favorably for the player many of us (myself included) drafted second overall.

-- Week 8: vs. Indianapolis (No. 31 vs. the run, 150.9 rushing yards per game allowed, nine rushing TDs allowed)

-- Week 9: vs. Cincinnati (No. 5 vs. the run, 89.5 yards, five TDs)

-- Week 10: at Carolina (No. 29, 133.4 yards, nine TDs)

-- Week 11: at Atlanta (No. 6, 98.4 yards, six TDs)

-- Week 12: vs. Tampa Bay (No. 22, 123.4 yards, seven TDs)

-- Week 13: at Buffalo (No. 30, 135.7 yards, nine TDs)

-- Week 14: vs. New Orleans (No. 15, 115.7 yards, five TDs)

-- Week 15: at Indianapolis (see Week 8)

-- Week 16: vs. Jacksonville (No. 10, 103.4 yards, four TDs)

In his first six games, Johnson faced four of the league's top 12 run defenses. In the next eight weeks, if you count Indy twice, he will play against five of the 11 worst run defenses.

If you're getting desperate, give C.J. at least this week. If he doesn't have a big game against the Colts, you have every right to bench him, trade him or make fun of him on Twitter.

If he does have his first huge game of 2011, you might be best served keeping him and hoping he will have a prolific second half of the season, while feasting on some of the NFL's worst at stopping the run.

Rivers is due, too

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers isn't nearly as high on the Potential Bust of the Year scale as Johnson, but he certainly hasn't been worth a second- or third-round fantasy pick.

Rivers is on pace for throw for 4,573 yards, but he has two more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (seven).

In Rivers' defense, tight end Antonio Gates has played in three of the six games, and he was held without a catch in one of them. Last week, with Gates back in the lineup (and catching Rivers' only TD pass), the quarterback was limited to 16-of-32 passing for 179 yards and was intercepted twice.

Remember, that was against the Jets, who have given up only four TD passes all season, compared to 11 interceptions.

Like Johnson, we should expect to see a vastly improved Rivers in the coming weeks.

Monday, San Diego will play at Kansas City, which ranks 17th against the pass. In the four weeks that follow, the Chargers will face the Packers (No. 31 vs. the pass), Raiders (No. 25), Bears (No. 27) and Broncos (No. 19).

If Gates remains healthy, Rivers should resume his 2008-10 role of being among the best in fantasy. Last season, depending on your league's scoring system, Rivers was within a few points of every fantasy player not named Arian Foster.

This season, we would settle for him being more like Matthew Stafford.

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