1. David Garrard, Jaguars
Garrard may be the ideal fantasy backup for the playoffs. He has thrown at least one touchdown in every game he’s started and finished. He delivers regardless of the competition, which makes him a guy who likely won’t break your heart with a stinker performance. That’s exactly the type of QB you want to plug in during the playoffs if your reguar QB goes down. It’s also worth noting that the Jaguars called 37 passing plays in Week 12. If that trend continues, Garrard will only improve as a fantasy QB.
Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider adding Garrard as a backup if you’re preparing your roster for the playoffs.
1. Adrian Peterson, Bears
The Forecast predicted a couple times this year that Peterson would eventually get the nod over an under-performing Cedric Benson. It didn’t happen, but Peterson will finally get his shot next week. Benson suffered what looks like a season-ending ankle injury. To find a starting RB on a run-oriented offense on your waiver wire at this point in the season is rare. If Peterson is available in your league at this point, do what you can to get him. He should get a minimum of 25 touches per game and is a decent receiver out of the backfield. The only thing working against him is a below-average schedule (NYG, WAS, MIN and GB). In deeper leagues, consider taking a flyer on rookie Garrett Wolfe, who could see time if Peterson falters or the Bears fall out of the playoff picture.
Availability: Owned in ~21% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Peterson will be the top free agent pickup this week and should be owned in all leagues.
2. Reuben Droughns, Giants
Droughns got the start this week against the highly-rated Vikings run defense. From a statistical perspective he had a decent effort, posting 52 yards and a touchdown despite the fact that his team was playing catch-up most of the game. If your don’t have any other options, you might be able to get by with Droughns this week. Although the Bears defense is sound, Droughns should find more room to run than he did against Minnesota. Just be sure to monitor the health statuses of starter Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.
Availability: Owned in ~57% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: If Brandon Jacobs sits again, Droughns will be worth a look as a temporary fantasy starter.
3. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
Carolina’s DeShaun Foster had about as bad of an afternoon running the football in Week 12 as you can have. Not only did he finish the game with negative five yards rushing on nine carries, but he also fumbled twice. Head coach John Fox has been extremely loyal to Foster in the past, but the bottom line is the Panthers haven’t won a home game in a calendar year. If he’s going to make a switch to DeAngelo Williams, it might be this week.
Availability: Owned in ~65% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Williams’ time may soon be coming; he should be owned in all leagues.
4. Fred Jackson, Bills
Buffalo’s backfield depth has been stretched farther than the elastic in a Rosie O’Donnell g-string. Two weeks ago Marshawn Lynch sustained a serious ankle injury. Anthony Thomas suffered a strained calf in Week 12 in will likely be listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Redskins. Head coach Dick Jauron indicated he expects reserve Fred Jackson to receive the bulk of the carries if neither Thomas nor Lynch (ankle) can go. That seems to be a likely scenario at this point. If you need a warm body to plug in at RB, Jackson is a good option.
Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson looks like he’s pulled ahead of Dwayne Wright and is worth a look this week if you need a RB.
5. Patrick Cobbs, Dolphins
Both Ricky Williams (chest) and Jesse Chatman (neck) suffered injuries on Monday night. Details of their injuries will become clearer today, but both injuries looked significant enough to keep the players out for next week’s game against the Jets. Patrick Cobbs is the third-stringer. He didn’t do much in limited action but, in his defense, it was against the Steelers in adverse weather conditions. Miami’s rushing offense has been surprisingly proficient this season, so if you’re desperate for help at RB, Cobbs is a decent option with a favorable matchup.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Cobbs deserves a roster spot this week if Williams and Chatman can’t go.
6. Cecil Sapp, Broncos
With Selvin Young and Travis Henry ailing, Andre Hall got the start on Sunday against the Bears. He gutted them for 167 total yards and a touchdown. He’s the next Terrell Davis, right? Well, he apparently sprained his ankle and will be questionable this week. If Hall starts at Oakland, it’s quite possible that he’ll be huge. However, right now, Mike Shanahan is saying Selvin Young might be ready to go. Travis Henry (knee) has apparently fallen out of the picture. The other Denver RB worth considering in deeper leagues is Cecil Sapp, who figures to get the start if Young and Hall are both unable to suit up. He’s worth acquiring as insurance if you’re counting on Young.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Sapp could be huge this week if he gets the start against the lowly Raiders.
1. Justin Gage, Titans
Trying to figure out the Titans WR corps has been impossible this season — until now. Head coach Jeff Fisher has finally opened up the offense. QB Vince Young has averaged 38 pass attempts and 269 yards over the last three games. With so much of the offense now going through the air, the WRs have a much better opportunity to perform consistently. The primary WR who has stepped up is Justin Gage. Gage, who was a highly-touted prospect when he was drafted by the Bears, has recorded three straight games with 60 or more receiving yards. It is the most consistent stretch of three games by any Tennessee WR this season. He should be a nice addition to any fantasy receiving unit and has a favorable upcoming schedule (HOU, SD, KC and NYJ).
Availability: Owned in ~10 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Gage has put together three good weeks in a row and should be considered a low-end WR3.
2. Reggie Williams, Jaguars
Williams has posted a touchdown in three of his last four outings. Like it or not, he is a fantasy factor. Williams now has six TDs this season — tied with the likes of Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Torry Holt. The knock on Williams is that he’s very capable of not showing up. Three weeks ago he had just one reception for 13 yards. The bottom line is he’s a WR you can only play when the matchup is right. He’s scored his TDs against Atlanta, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, San Diego and Buffalo. Only Denver is considered an above-average pass defense. Teams that held Williams out of the endzone were Kansas City, Indianapolis, Tampa and Tennessee — all above average pass defenses.
Availability: Owned in ~32 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Williams is a playmaker who can be used when the matchup looks favorable.
3. Nate Burleson, Seahawks
D.J. Hackett re-injured the ankle that kept him sidelined for most of the season. It’s a bummer for fantasy owners who had received a nice injection of points when Hackett returned. The Seahawks are throwing on two-thirds of their plays, so the team’s third WR will have value going forward. That guy will be Nate Burleson, who posted some decent (though inconsistent) stats when Hackett went down the first time. Considering Seattle’s favorable schedule during the fantasy playoffs (ARZ, CAR and BAL), Burleson has great upside.
Availability: Owned in ~38 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Burleson is a smart pickup this week considering the Hackett injury and Seattle’s emphasis on the passing game.
4. Anthony Gonzalez, Colts
Gonzalez had his best day as a pro on Thanksgiving when he put up 105 yards on six receptions. The rookie gave Peyton Manning a much-need third option behind Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Gonzalez will be hard pressed to post 100 yards consistently, especially with Marvin Harrison expected to return for this week’s game. Even so, there’s no reason he can’t rack up 60-70 yards each week now that he’s earned Manning’s trust.
Availability: Owned in ~22 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Gonzalez is an option in deeper leagues even with the return of Marvin Harrison.
5. Greg Lewis, Eagles
Lewis was the favorite target of QB A.J. Feeley in Sunday night’s eye-opening performance against the Patriots. He caught four passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns. It’s unclear whether Feeley or Donovan McNabb will get the start this week against the Seahawks, though the Philly media has indicated McNabb will play. If he does, Lewis will probably return to being a nonfactor for fantasy purposes. Take a shot on him if it looks like Feeley will get the start. Otherwise leave him alone.
Availability: Owned in ~0 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Lewis abused the Patriots secondary but doesn’t have as much value with Donovan McNabb under center.
6. Sydney Rice, Vikings
The Forecast has had its eye on Rice for much of the season. Poor QB play has been an anchor on what otherwise looks like one of the more talented young receivers in the NFL. QB Tarvaris Jackson has for the most part looked incapable of leading an NFL offense. However, he finally showed some promise on Sunday against the Giants. Jackson hooked up with Rice for 82 yards, including a beautiful 60-yard touchdown. Because of the great matchup this week against the Lions, Rice is worth a look as a fourth WR or flex player.
Availability: Owned in ~6 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider Rice nice roster depth and keep him in mind next year.
1. Owen Daniels, Texans
Daniels has been touted here a few times, including last week, and is beginning to live up to lofty preseason expectations. After posting 74 yards two weeks ago, he put up his best game of the season in Week 12 (7-82-1). The return of Matt Schaub to the lineup has turned Daniels into a top 10 fantasy TE. If he is still available in your league and you need a backup TE for the playoffs, Daniels is your man.
Availability: Owned in ~65% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Daniels is a legitimate fantasy starter at this point.
2. Tony Scheffler, Broncos
Scheffler had a two-game dip in production but came up big against the Bears in Week 12. He caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. Javon Walker (knee) returned to the field, but left early apparently aggravating his injury. With Denver’s receiving corps thin, Scheffler will continue to see plenty of looks. Consider him an excellent TE2 or low-end TE1.
Availability: Owned in ~35% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Scheffler is worth a look in all TE-mandatory leagues.
3. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
The Jags lost TE George Wrighster (knee) for the season. Marcedes Lewis now becomes a potentially important part of Jacksonville’s offense. He caught five passes for 57 yards in Week 12. Lewis was a first-round draft choice in 2006 and was voted the best TE in college football in 2005. There’s no question the guy has talent. Now he will now get his chance to live up to his potential. Take a flyer on him if you play in a keeper or dynasty league.
Availability: Owned in ~1% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Lewis is worth consideration in keeper and dynasty leagues.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa’s defense continues to impress despite having little name recognition. In the last two weeks, they’ve forced 11 turnovers and registered six sacks. This week the Bucs play an improving Saints offense. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to start them. Although New Orleans has been scoring points, the team has had its share of miscues. Tampa is a quality pickup for any team that needs a defense they can trust during the playoffs. The Bucs get Houston, Atlanta and San Francisco in Weeks 14-16.
Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Tampa is an outstanding acquisition for fantasy teams that will make the playoffs.