1. Vince Young, Titans
Young’s name has popped up here three of the last four weeks. Yet he’s still available in over 40% of all fantasy leagues. Go figure. There’s not a lot to dislike about the rookie’s performance of late. Over the last two games, Young has put up 412 yards passing with two touchdowns. And the 147 yards and one touchdown he’s added on the ground are a hefty heaping of gravy. Don’t think for a second that he’s not worth a look during your league’s fantasy playoffs. A matchup this week against the Texans and, to a lesser extent, a Week 16 tilt against the Bills look solid.
Availability: Owned in ~60% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Don’t overlook Young for your fantasy playoffs; he’s a strong play this week against the Texans.
2. Jeff Garcia, Eagles
Garcia is experiencing a rebirth in the City of Brotherly Love. He had a strong showing on Monday night against a good Panthers defense, throwing for 300+ yards and three touchdowns. Most impressively, he showcased good downfield accuracy and arm strength. That’s two games in a row with multiple passing TDs. With a pass-oriented offense and wideouts like Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth, Garcia has the potential to put up good numbers for the duration of the 2006 season. A favorable schedule against the Redskins and Giants over the next couple weeks makes Garcia a nice acquisition in leagues of all sizes and scoring systems.
Availability: Owned in ~35% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Garcia deserves a roster spot as a QB2 and spot starter in all leagues.
3. Jay Cutler, Broncos
Cutler didn’t exactly make Broncos fans forget John Elway in his first NFL start. However, a 2-TD effort is promising. If you’re entering the playoffs and have a suspect QB situation, consider adding Cutler as a backup. After another start this week against the Chargers, he should have a better feel for the game. Then, things get easier. A Week 15 matchup against the Cardinals and a Week 16 game against the Bengals could be big. Plus you have to think that head coach Mike Shanahan will open up the playbook as Cutler gains more experience. More mulit-touchdown performances are on the horizon for the rookie.
Availability: Owned in ~61% of leagues
Forecast guidance: A favorable schedule in Weeks 15 and 16 makes Cutler a viable spot starter over the next few weeks.
4. Alex Smith, 49ers
If your team is in the consolation bracket in your league (a.k.a. the toilet bowl), consider picking up Smith and playing him against the Packers. Green Bay’s defense was torn to shreds by the Jets in Week 13. Chad Pennington put up 263 yards and two touchdowns. The Pack currently ranks 30th in the NFL against the pass. Smith hasn’t been a reliable fantasy player in 2006, but you can squeeze a couple scores out of him for one week.
Availability: Owned in ~51% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Smith is a high-risk, high-reward player this week against the Packers.
Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Trent Green and David Garrard
1. Cedric Houston, Jets
Houston, a Week 13 Forecast pick, staked his claim to New York’s starting RB job with a 105-yard, 2-TD performance against the Packers. Leon Washington, who most considered to be the top Jets RB prior to this week, carried the ball just seven times. Kevan Barlow didn’t suit up and can safely be dropped in most leagues. It’s still a committee situation, but Houston is definitely the chairman of that committee. The Jets are playing inspired football and are 3-1 since their bye week. A tough slate of games over the next few weeks diminishes Houston’s value a bit, but he’s worth a start this week against the 29th-ranked run defense of the Bills.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues
Forecast guidance: It looks like Houston will be getting the majority of carries this week against Buffalo and is therefore worth a roster spot and even a start.
2. Jerrious Norwood, Falcons
I’ve been pimping Norwood since the preseason and am thoroughly convinced that he will be a stud as soon as next year. In the meantime, he’s stealing carries from Warrick Dunn and putting up some nice stats. He busted off a 69-yard run and put a few filthly moves on a cornerback en route to the endzone. If he’s still available in your league, by all means pick him up. The Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives. Head coach Jim Mora is on the hot seat. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him rely more heavily on the rookie over the next few games.
Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Norwood should be owned in all leagues but is a bit of a risky start at this point.
3. Ciatrick Fason, Vikings
Minnesota starting tailback Chester Taylor suffered a rib injury on Sunday. Taylor’s status at this point is up in the air, but his ribs are apparently not broken. When Taylor went down, Ciatrick Fason stepped in and put up 75 yards against a stout Bears defense. Were Taylor to miss a game, Fason would likely split carries with Mewelde Moore. Considering the Vikings upcoming schedule (DET, NYJ, and GB), both Fason and Moore deserve a look. But based on the way the backups were used after Taylor went down in Week 13, Fason is the better pickup this week. He figures to the majority of snaps and all the goal line work.
Availability: Owned in ~2% of leagues
Forecast guidance: If Taylor misses Sunday’s game, Fason is a quick fix and should put up some points against the Lions.
4. Ron Dayne, Texans
In typical Dayne fashion, the former Heisman Trophy winner put up a good game just when people had written him off for dead. Dayne rushed for 95 yards on 18 carries in relief of Wali Lundy. The performance likely earned him an increased role this week against the Titans. That’s the way Houston’s RB carousel spins. Don’t activate him in your fantasy league unless you are truly desperate. Instead, add him as a backup who could emerge as a contributor if the Houston offensive line starts to gel.
Availability: Owned in ~18% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Dayne could provide depth for playoff teams, but isn’t worth starting at this point.
5. Marcel Shipp, Cardinals
Edgerrin James’ nightmare 2006 season hit a new low on Sunday when he gave up his goal line carries to backup Marcel Shipp. Shipp scored three times. Ironically, it’s the same number of TDs James has scored all season. Although Shipp is likely to offer little value in most fantasy leagues, he merits consideration in those that are weighted heavily toward TDs. Upcoming games against Seattle (Week 14) and San Francisco (Week 16) could provide more TD opportunities for Shipp.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Shipp is worth a look in TD-only leagues.
Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Ladell Betts and Cedric Benson
1. Marty Booker, Dolphins
Booker has been a favorite Free Agent Forecast recommendation in 2006. He has five TDs in his last six games. With Joey Harrington under center, there’s no doubt that Booker is a critical piece of the Dolphins offense. The veteran wideout is an excellent short and mid-range pass catcher, the length of pass that Harrington favors. If it weren’t for poor QB play and an injury earlier in the season, Booker might be one of the top 15 or 20 fantasy wideouts. Make acquiring him a priority if he’s available. He’s worth a look as a second or third WR for the rest of the season despite a difficult schedule.
Availability: Owned in 45% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Booker has developed into a reliable starter in all leagues.
2. Matt Jones, Jaguars
Jones appears to be both fully healed and fully out of head coach Jack Del Rio’s doghouse. He had his best game of the season in Week 13 (128 yds. and 1 TD) . . . actually, the best game of his career. The performance proves he can still be a viable #3 WR or flex player. Pick him up in advance of your league’s postseason. I don’t love Jacksonville’s schedule during the next three weeks (IND, TEN, and NE), but Jones is big enough and physical enough to put up numbers on anyone.
Availability: Owned in ~41% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Jones has scored TDs in back-to-back weeks and is worth a roster spot in all leagues.
3. Joe Jurevicius, Browns
Jurevicius had his most productive game as a Browns wideout catching six passes. What was most surprising about his 75-yard game is that some of the production came with backup QB Derek Anderson under center. Anderson was quite impressive in relief of the injured Charlie Frye (hand). He completed 12 of 21 passes for 171 yards and two TDs. With Frye expected to miss time, Anderson will likely change the dynamic of the Browns offense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him lean heavily on Jurevicius, who at 6’5” is the team’s biggest receiving target. Unfortunately, a tough schedule (PIT, BAL, and TB) makes playing Jurevicius a risky proposition.
Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Jurevicius is worth a roster spot but shouldn’t be used this week against the Steelers unless you start four receivers.
4. Brandon Stokley, Colts
Maybe I’m reaching here, but I think before the season is over, Brandon Stokley is going to have a couple nice games. The potentially season-ending injury to Dallas Clark has left a gaping hole in the Indianapolis offense. Although the team still has some options at TE, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them use more three wide receiver sets in the coming weeks. The Colts are coming off a disappointing loss to the Titans, and the offense isn’t clicking as well as it usually does. With Stokely recovered from a knee injury, he could play an increased role as the Colts come down the home stretch of the regular season. With upcoming games against the Bengals and Texans, he could surprise.
Availability: Owned in ~20% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Stokley is only worth a look in the deepest leagues at this point, but keep your eye on him this week.
Picks from previous weeks worth repeating: Mike Furrey, Reche Caldwell, Wes Welker, and Jerricho Cotchery
1. Vernon Davis, 49ers
Davis suffered a broken leg early in the season. Eric Johnson stepped in and performed admirably, but now Johnson is likely out for the remainder of the season with an injury of his own. While Davis hasn’t done much this season to merit the attention of fantasy owners, he’s worth more than a cursory glance this week against the Packers. Green Bay owns the 30th ranked pass defense in the NFL and they’ve been vulnerable to opposing TEs lately. In the last three games, they’ve given up four TE scores. Plug and play Davis this week if your regular TE isn’t going to cut it this week.
Availability: Owned in ~35% of leagues
Forecast guidance: Pick up Davis this week and start him agains the Packers if you need a TE boost.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
1. Tennessee Titans
With the Houston Texans coming up next on the scheudle, the Titans are a good one week pickup and play option. Texans QB David Carr has been sacked nine times in the past two games. On Sunday against Oakland, he managed an anemic 32 yards passing. The Titans have beat three playoff contenders in consecutive weeks (PHI, NYG, and IND). They should have little difficulty disposing of the Texans. On the way, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they record 4-5 sacks, a few turnovers, and a defensive TD.
Availability: Owned in ~3% of leagues
Forecast guidance: The Titans are a solid one-week play against the reeling Texans.