The fantasy football playoffs (and apparently Christmas) are just days away, and everyone is starting to feel the excitement. With 16 games on the schedule this week and several stars on the shelf with injuries, there's a lot of roster movement left to be made - so check out some of the players primed for a big week that can plug those necessary holes. And as always, check back Sunday for our Breaking News Update.
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Reggie Bush will play.
Steven Jackson is active.
Michael Turner is out.
DeAngelo Williams is out.
Roddy White is active.
Start – The state of New York football hasn’t exactly looked promising lately. Ever since Eli Manning lost his “blankey,” Mark Sanchez started experimenting with interceptions, and the Buffalo Bills just decided "football wasn't really their thing," there hasn’t been much to cheer about in the greater New York area. Fortunately, in this game – one of these teams has to win, meaning the only real losers here are the fans. If the Jets are going to be the ones coming out on top they’re going to need Thomas Jones to put up yet another big game against the league’s worst rush defense. He’ll get a little help from his tight end Dustin Keller (21 receptions in his last four games) and will still be the focus of the Jets offense. Up the road, who would've thought that a Harvard graduate playing quarterback would be the answer to Terrell Owens’ problems? Since the Bills have started Ryan Fitzpatrick (don’t start him against the Jets second-ranked pass defense, by the way), Owens has had three straight monster fantasy weeks and is finally becoming “less useless” on an irrelevant team. He will be facing a difficult match-up against Darrelle Revis, but is still the only receiving threat on the team.
Sit – The Jets passing game has struggled like a fat kid on Valentine's Day and shouldn’t get much better against the Bills’ seventh-ranked pass defense. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards struggled last week against a similar Panthers defense, and shouldn’t fare much better in this one. Marshawn Lynch is a great example of why missing early games in order to commit crimes can hurt your season (six yards last week), while Fred Jackson is still struggling to become a consistent fantasy threat with Lee Evans (three receptions in his last two games).
Start – If there’s one game where you look up midway through the second quarter and think “I know I have Steven Jackson continuing to rush for 100 yards every game, but there is no reason I should have invested two hours into this crapfest” – this would be it. These are two non-playoff teams that will spend more time scouting bowl games than at team practices over the next month. Jackson is listed as questionable, but played through injury last week. Check this space Sunday before kickoff for the update. Matt Forte is worth the start this week against a Rams team giving up nearly 150 rushing yards per game, while Jay Cutler should be able to score a pair of touchdowns against St. Louis’ 30th-ranked scoring defense. Greg Olsen has 20 receptions in his past three games and continues to be one of the lone bright spots on the Chicago offense. Donnie Avery is putting up a nice end to a dismal season for his team with three straight games banking at least four receptions and three touchdowns over that span.
Sit – Kyle Boller is getting a nice chance to remind general managers around the league why he should never be a starting quarterback again, while the entire Bears receiving corps has decided to get an early audition for next year’s third WR spot. You can try playing a guy like Devin Hester (and he may get you a touchdown), but nobody on this unit is stepping up and becoming a serious threat every week.
Start – Anybody who said they assumed the Bengals would have a chance to go 9-3 with a home win over Detroit at the beginning of this season is a filthy liar or someone who bases their life choices around Chad Ochocinco’s Twitter updates. And now that Cedric Benson is expected to come back after a two-week vacation to help Carson Palmer dismantle the NFL’s worst passing defense, the Bengals should be able to score at least 28-35 points - which means Ochocinco should have yet another banner day. As always, Calvin Johnson is a 20-point fantasy football threat, and even scored a touchdown despite playing hurt last week. Reports from Detroit claim he has participated fully in practice headed into week 13 and is excited to make the loss a little easier for fans.
Sit – Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles have both struggled to find consistency this year, while Kevin Smith (zero touchdowns since week 4) is becoming less likely to break 75 yards every passing week. Unfortunately for Matthew Stafford, his shoulder seems to be getting worse, and it’s unclear whether he will be able to make it through the entire game. Daunte Culpepper would get the start unless he refuses to come in. He had a connection with Calvin Johnson when he played before so it shouldn't hurt Megatron's output.
Start – The NFC East is becoming a tad more terrible than expected and at 7-4 the Eagles are certainly in the division hunt. If Donovan McNabb (five touchdowns in his last three starts), Brent Celek (listed as probable with a sprained thumb), and LeSean McCoy (expected to start again for the injured Brian Westbrook) can exploit a banged-up Falcons pass defense that ranks 27th in the league and a rush defense that isn’t much better – this could be a nice win for the delightful fans of Philadelphia. Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez both had double-digit fantasy games last week and should be fine against the Eagles – but with their starting quarterback likely out, don’t expect monster outings by either.
Sit – DeSean Jackson suffered a concussion last week and is listed as “iffy” (a complicated medical term) for week 13. Michael Turner, who aggravated a high ankle sprain, also might not play and his replacements – Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling – may both struggle against the Eagles’ top eight rush defense. With Matt Ryan out, Chris Redman is the starter for the Falcons, so don’t expect much now that the Eagles have a full week to explore his career-long blooper reel.
Start – One of two things is going to happen after this game:
Either way this is going to be the most exciting game of the weekend. The last time these two teams played, Peyton Manning had 300 yards and three touchdowns, thanks to Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark (nine receptions against Tennessee in October), and a suddenly hot Pierre Garcon (unaffected by a slight ankle injury). For Tennessee, Chris Johnson (125-plus yards in six straight games) is becoming the best player in the NFL and the only answer the Titans may have on offense. Kenny Britt is a nice flex/third WR start with touchdowns in his last two games. He's become Young's go-to guy.
Sit – Joseph Adai is banged up and facing the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense. Don’t expect a big fantasy showing from him or Austin Collie (who has only broken 75 yards once in his last six games). Vince Young is a winner, but not a fantasy stud. Expect around 200 yards and a TD. Justin Gage isn’t expected to be back to 100 percent for the third straight week, and Nate Washington looks more like Braylon Edwards every week with his constant drops.
Start – The Denver Broncos haven’t played since giving thanks on Turkey Day for Eli Manning’s seemingly new tradition of mid-season collapse and should be well-rested to play one of the worst teams in the NFL. Knoshown Moreno has three straight games with at least 80 yards, and will be playing a Chiefs run defense that has a real Zen-like approach to alternative tackling. His partner in offensive crime, Brandon Marshall, is coming off of a big day and should be able to catch one or two deep balls against a Chiefs secondary that is very susceptible to the big play. Jamaal Charles (93 yards and a touchdown last week against the Chargers) is starting to get hot and worth a flex start.
Sit – Kyle Orton is still struggling to put up consistently impressive fantasy numbers, and with a game plan geared towards the running game, this may continue while fellow Broncos Tony Scheffler and Correll Buckhalter just don’t see enough touches to be “fantasy relevant.” And speaking of irrelevant, how lucky does Josh McDaniels feel to not have Matt Cassel on his roster? After nearly mortgaging the future for a guy who is effectively the Jim Sorgi of the New England system, Denver’s head coach has to feeling fortunate as Cassel struggles to break an 80 quarterback rating. Dwayne Bowe continues to sit out his suspension.
Start – If there’s one thing Bill Belichick likes to do (besides explaining why videotaping his opponent’s practices isn’t cheating), it’s beating up on lesser opponents to feel like a man. After getting humiliated by the Saints on Monday Night Football, you can bet he’s going to try to hang 40 points on a banged-up Dolphins team clinging to their playoff lives. Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker should all take advantage of Miami’s 23rd-ranked passing defense. Also look for Laurence Maroney (touchdowns in his last six games) to collect some goal line scoring opportunities. Once again, the only counter Miami will have offensively is Ricky Williams. The ninth-year back has 100-plus yards in his last three games and is the focal point of an otherwise anemic offense.
Sit – The Patriots passing game is sort of an exclusive club, and apparently Ben Watson and Julian Edelman just aren’t getting invited to participate more than twice a game. Don't get cute when it's all on the line and try to start someone like Sam Aiken, either. For the Dolphins, Chad Henne is doing a decent job not losing games, but he and his receivers aren’t winning you any fantasy leagues, either. Three passing touchdowns in the last four weeks isn’t exactly helping the Davone Bess, Ted Ginn Jr. crowd.
Start – I’ve got to say Hines Ward was right. Ben Roethlisberger should have played with a concussion. Every time I walk into a McDonalds or strip club the cashier is clearly working with brain damage and doing an acceptable job. This is why when Big Ben returns to the line-up this week against a suddenly sliding Raiders pass defense he should be all right. His critics (Ward) will look to make up for the public criticism by getting into the end zone, while Santonio Holmes (at least six receptions in his last four games) should also contribute. Expect Rashard Mendenhall to take advantage of the Raiders 31st-ranked rush defense and now with his proper quarterback in the lineup, Heath Miller should be back to his old, fantasy-effective self. Zach Miller (at least five receptions in three of his last four games) is worth the start.
Sit – JaMarcus Russell is still sitting on the bench in favor of a slightly less awful Bruce Gradkowski, who can’t muster up much fantasy value in the passing game. Bad news considering Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden will struggle mightily against the NFL’s best rush defense. It's also worth noting that Mike Wallace didn’t catch a single pass last week, and is still a little too inconsistent - even with Roethlisberger coming back.
Start – Drew Brees is simply playing on another level right now. Watching him put up five touchdowns against the Patriots on Monday Night Football almost made me feel better about the copious amounts of money I lost betting against Tom Brady in the 2001 Super Bowl. It took eight years, but there’s some mild vindication in watching an admitted cheater get served a plate of humble pie on national television. Not only is Brees my new hero, but a fantasy demi-God as well. Brees, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey, and Robert Meachem are becoming must-starts nearly every week due to their consistent play and explosive capabilities. And now that Pierre Thomas is banking three extra receptions in each of his last two games (including a touchdown catch), he is starting to really earn his fantasy value and should excel against Washington’s 25th-ranked rush defense.
Sit – The Washington Redskins offense is a mess. Their top two running backs are injured, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El haven’t broke 50 yards in four straight games, and Jason Campbell has one multiple touchdown game in his past five starts. Reggie Bush will play in his first game in three weeks, but is just too risky at this point. Mike Bell won't make up enough carries to be worth a start unless you're in TD leagues.
Start – Ladies and gentlemen, this is the NFC South at its absolute most mediocre. With DeAngelo Williams potentially out with an ankle injury (check back Sunday, though), Jonathan Stewart could be the best offensive player in this game (100 yards earlier this year against the Bucs). Steve Smith is worth a start despite a dismal week 12, as the only receiving threat against a pass defense prone to give up big plays. Tampa Bay's lone fantasy starter is Kellen Winslow (double digit points in three of his past four games), but he is listed as questionable and sat out practice this week.
Sit – Jake Delhomme is out for this game, and Matt Moore is going to make the start. There’s no question he’ll look at least 48 years older than Josh Freeman. Freeman has been a pleasant surprise, but is still struggling to put up two-touchdown days He'll have a tough time with the Panthers’ stifling pass defense (so give Antonio Bryant a sit, too). Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward should also struggle to break the 50-yard plateau that eludes them on a weekly basis.
Start – Maybe it’s the excitement of a playoff chase or the fact that I once spent 48 minutes in the Houston airport, but I am genuinely excited for this game. Matt Schaub had 300 yards the last time these teams played and is now connecting with Andre Johnson at a Manning-Wayne level. Kevin Walter had a career day the last time these two teams met, and after his impressive performance last week, this may be the time to start him. Jacksonville will rely on Maurice Jones-Drew (over 30 fantasy points last time these two met and four touchdowns in his last five games) to get things going. David Garrard is a fringe starter after his 300 yard game last week. Mike Sims-Walker is listed as questionable and may not play. If he does, get him in your lineup. He's a different player at home.
Sit – Steve Slaton had a great game last Sunday, but with less than a dozen carries and Chris Brown continuing to slice into his workload it’s becoming harder and harder to consider him a starting fantasy option against top 10 run defenses like the Jaguars. It also looks like Slaton is out for this game, so give Brown a bump. Marcedes Lewis continues to get less effective each week and will struggle against a talented Texans secondary.
Start – The Chargers have won six straight games, scored over 100 points in their last three contests and are playing excellent football right now. Conversely, the Browns are an embarrassment to the state of Ohio and are hoping to double their season win total with a victory this week. Phillip Rivers (300 yards and two touchdowns last week) is playing outstanding and should use Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates to help him take advantage of the league’s 25th-best scoring defense. Speaking of scoring, LaDanian Tomlinson has five touchdowns in his last three games and should be good for mega points this week. Enjoy watching him run roughshod when you need it most.
Sit – The Cleveland Browns really are tough to watch on offense. Brady Quinn is a 50-50 shot to break 120 yards each week (great news for his receivers) and Jamal Lewis is out. There’s nothing good going on in that locker room and things are only going to get worse this week against a hot Chargers defense. Darren Sproles hasn’t had a touchdown in months and has become a fantasy afterthought in Southern California, though against the pathetic Browns run D he could get increased carries to rest LT once the game is out of reach.
Start – Remember last year when the Giants started out red hot and then totally blew it in December? Well, this year is nothing like that, as the G-Men threw away their season mid-way through November. If they want any chance of saving this trainwreck, Eli Manning is going to have to put up 330 yards (like he did in week 2 against the Cowboys) with the help of Steve Smith (27 receptions in his past four games) and Kevin Boss (four touchdowns in his last three games). Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are both good for four or five receptions – making them effective third WR starts or flex position possibilities against a mediocre Cowboys defense. They won’t be able to match the scorching hot combo of Tony Romo and Miles Austin, but should be all right. The big problem for the Giants will be stopping a healthy Marion Barber who torched them for 124 yards and a touchdown in week 2 and will open things up for guys like Jason Witten (100-plus yards last week).
Sit – The Giants offensive line has been nothing short of dismal lately, and against a ferocious Cowboys front seven, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw should struggle. Felix Jones also isn’t worth a start, as he simply isn’t getting enough carries to be effective. He and the Roy Williams/Patrick Crayton combo duo will disappoint against the recently healthy Giants secondary.
Start – Last time these two teams met, Frank Gore rushed for 200 yards, and even though the offensive strategy is a little less run-heavy, he’s still a solid option along with Vernon Davis (touchdowns in his last two games). And for players looking to fill a quarterback hole, Alex Smith (five touchdowns in his last two games) is a nice play against the Seahawks mediocre pass defense. Matt Hasselbeck has a nice match-up against the 49ers’ 28th-ranked pass defense, and should get John Carlson and Nate Burleson back on track at home, where they all play much better.
Sit – The Seahawks should be pass-heavy this week, which means that Justin Forsett and Julius Jones (back from injury) won’t see the ball much against San Francisco’s top 10 rush defense. T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who has broken 50 yards only once in his past six games) is a poor choice to start along with Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree unless you're desparate for flex players. Though if holding out for more money counts for points in your league, Crabtree is definitely your man.
Start – This potential playoff preview should help the Brett Favre MVP campaign, when the 40-year-old gun slinger gets to face one of the worst pass defenses in the entire league. Favre has seven touchdowns in his last three games and has the help of Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin, and Sidney Rice (all of whom are coming off nice fantasy performances). Adrian Peterson has touchdowns in four of his last five games, and should benefit from some goal line opportunities. Start Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald against a below average Vikings secondary, but remember that they won’t be playing with their number one quarterback.
Sit- Kurt Warner likely won’t be starting due to an injury that Hines Ward probably thinks is minor, and Matt Leinart isn’t exactly a great fantasy quarterback. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower struggled to get going against a top 10 rush defense last week, and this game should yield similar results. Though at least Hightower gets some receptions for PPR leagues. Also stay away from Bernard Berrian and Steve Breaston, neither of whom are being targeted often of late.
Start – Let’s not jinx anything, but this may actually be a half-way decent Monday Night Football game. Both teams are coming off of big wins and still have a lot of work to do to get into the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers has two straight 300-yard passing games thanks to the increasingly impressive play of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Both should have solid games against a suspect Ravens secondary. Baltimore, however, will try to win the game on the ground by once again relying on Ray Rice (over 100 total yards in seven straight games).
Sit – Ryan Grant is still a little banged up, and will be facing a top 10 Ravens rush defense that is playing with a lot of passion right now. The only team that might be playing better on that side of the ball is the NFL’s top-ranked Packers unit that should be able to limit Joe Flacco (injured ankle), Derrick Mason, and a struggling Todd Heap.