1. David Garrard, Jaguars
Seriously, if you’re heading into the playoffs with a mediocre backup QB (i.e. Eli Manning or Donovan McNabb), you owe it to yourself to trade up for Garrard if he’s available. The guy hasn’t gotten nearly the respect he deserves this season. Since returning from an injury a few weeks ago, Garrard has put up three strong fantasy performances. He has just one interception this season. If you opt to pass on Garrard, at least keep him in mind for 2008.
Availability: Owned in ~61% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Garrard has earned a roster spot, if not a starting spot, in all leagues.
2. Luke McCown, Buccaneers
Jeff Garcia reportedly has a hairline fracture in his back. He disputes those rumors, but missed Sunday’s game against the Saints. Reserve Luke McCown was awesome in his place. He completed his first 15 passes and ended the day with 313 yards and two touchdowns. Since McCown looks capable, don’t expect head coach Jon Gruden to rush Garcia back, particularly with a comfortable division lead. If McCown gets the start against the Texans, he’s worth a start. Houston has a middle-of-the-road pass defense. I don’t expect an A.J. Feeley-like collapse this week for McCown. Also consider Gus Frerotte if Marc Bulger isn’t able to pass his post-concussion tests.
Availability: Owned in ~0% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: McCown is a decent option this week against the Texans.
1. Fred Jackson, Bills
Jackson, a player who spent last year on the Bills practice squad, exceeded expectations in his debut filling in for the injured Marshawn Lynch (foot) and Anthony Thomas (calf). He posted over 150 yards of total offense against an above-average Redskins defense. Lynch is getting closer to returning to action, but may miss another week. Thomas is likely out. If you need a starting RB or flex player for the playoffs, picking up Jackson makes sense. He’s a versatile RB who should at a minimum exceed 80 all-purpose yards if he starts this week against a poor Dolphins defense that gave up three rushing scores last week to the Jets.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson could be a point machine again this week when he faces the Dolphins; he should be owned in all leagues.
2. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
The Forecast told you last week that Williams might be in line to get more work because starter DeShaun Foster had an awful game in Week 12. Although Foster got four more carries than Williams this week, Williams once again did more with them. The Panthers will soon come to terms with the fact that they have no shot at the playoffs. Perhaps then we’ll see Williams get a chance to carry the full load. Invest a roster spot in him just in case that happens.
Availability: Owned in ~64% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Williams should be owned in all leagues.
3. Jerious Norwood, Falcons
More of the same in Atlanta. Head coach Bobby Petrino gave Norwood just a handful of touches and Norwood turned them into 94 rushing yards. There’s a chance that the Atlanta brass will never give Norwood a chance to carry a full load. His is, after all, on the small side and isn’t good in pass protection. However, at this point the team is looking ahead to 2008. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll give him 12 touches in each game for the remainder of the season. With games against the Saints and Cardinals over the next three weeks, that could prove to be enough to make Norwood a major fantasy factor.
Availability: Owned in ~51% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Norwood provides outstanding depth and upside in leagues of all sizes and scoring systems.
4. Reuben Droughns, Giants
Derrick Ward started last week against the Bears and had a huge afternoon. But as has been the case with the Giants all season, a monster statistical performance was marred by an injury. Ward suffered a broken leg and will be out indefinitely. Regular starter Brandon Jacobs is expected back this week. However, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Bottom line: Reuben Droughns is a must-acquire player if you are counting on a contribution from the New York backfield.
Availability: Owned in ~57% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Droughns should be owned by all Brandon Jacobs owners who are entering the playofs.
5. Chris Brown, Titans
Week 1 seems like a distant memory, but you probably remember Chris Brown’s out-of-nowhere 175-yard rushing performance. Up until Sunday, the rest of Brown’s season was pretty ho-hum. He never exceeded 38 yards rushing and battled injuries. Brown is healthy now though and he came in for an injured LenDale White in Week 13. He managed 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Brown’s performance might earn him some more carries going forward, but he’s unlikely to become a featured back. Still, Brown merits consideration as a backup
Availability: Owned in ~45% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Look for Brown to split carries with LenDale White; he deserves consideration in all leagues.
6. Leon Washington, Jets
Washington was a hot sleeper draft pick during the preseason because Thomas Jones suffered a sprained calf muscle. Washington got some carries early on and has certainly made an impact on special teams; however, his offensive contributions had been few and far between leading up to Sunday’s performance against the Dolphins. Washington tallied 103 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against Miami. The game was a blowout, but Washington wasn’t merely a “garbage-time” factor. He had six of his 12 carries in the first half and six in the second half. Washington isn’t a fantasy starter in leagues that start two RBs, but he’s a passable RB3 or flex player if the matchup is right.
Availability: Owned in ~27% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Washington is worth a look if you need RB depth.
1. Justin Gage, Titans
Gage has gone from NFL bust to bona fide fantasy starter in a matter of weeks. He’s emerged as Vince Young’s favorite target. And we’re not talking about a Vince Young who only throws the ball 18 times per game. The Titans have opened up the offense and guys like Gage are the beneficiaries. He has exceeded 90 yards receiving and/or scored a touchdown in three of the last four weeks. Acquire and start him this week against the Chargers if you need a third WR.
Availability: Owned in ~14 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Gage is legit and should be owned in all leagues.
2. Nate Burleson, Seahawks
The Forecast predicted last week that Burleson would become a noteworthy fantasy presence with D.J. Hackett (ankle) sidelined. The former Vikings wideout posted 71 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Given how much the Seahawks pass—an average of 39 attempts over the last four games—Burleson should continue to get plenty of looks. He’s a WR you can play with relative confidence in your playoffs especially when you factor in a favorable schedule (ARZ, CAR and BAL).
Availability: Owned in ~38 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Burleson should be owned in all leagues.
3. Mike Furrey, Lions
Roy Williams suffered a regular-season-ending knee injury Sunday against the Vikings. Mike Furrey, who led the NFC in receptions last year, will step into the starting lineup and has an excellent opportunity to be a fantasy contributor for fantasy teams. Rookie Calvin Johnson has been inconsistent. His best contributions seem to come on deep passes. The problem is the offensive line is horrible and QB Jon Kitna has minimal time to get rid of the ball. That makes short, quick passes Detroit’s best bet, which happen to be Furrey’s specialty. He could average six or more receptions per game for the remained of 2007 (he caught seven in Week 13).
Availability: Owned in ~27 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Furrey could once again be a fantasy force in PPR leagues.
4. Arnaz Battle, 49ers
Arnaz Battle is San Francisco’s best wide receiver. With the 49ers beginning to pick up at least a little momentum, Battle has a chance to close out the season with some decent numbers. He has quietly put up four consecutive games with at least 78 yards or a touchdown. That’s not bad production and very passable for a third WR in a league with 12 or more teams. Battle is a sneaky pickup and play option if your team is a darkhorse in the playoffs and need some WR help. He faces the Vikings this week followed by the Bengals.
Availability: Owned in ~26 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Consider adding Battle to your starting lineup this week against the Vikings and next week against the Bengals.
5. Bryant Johnson, Cardinals
All of the sudden, the Arizona wide receiving corps is very banged up. Larry Fitzgerald (groin) wasn’t able to play on Sunday. Anquan Boldin left the game with an apparent leg injury. With both players ailing, Bryant Johnson stepped up and amassed 56 yards and a touchdown. There’s a very good chance that Johnson will start this week against the Seahawks given the injuries to both starters. If he does, he figures to get a minimum of seven or eight targets and could turn in another nice performance.
Availability: Owned in ~11 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Johnson is a solid pickup in all leagues this week.
6. Sidney Rice, Vikings
You have to appreciate a receiver with the last name of “Rice”. The rookie has had a pretty impressive season considering how poorly his QBs have played for most of the year. Ironically, Rice has the same number of receiving touchdowns and just four fewer receptions as #1 overall draft pick Calvin Johnson. With Tarvaris Jackson making strides every week, Rice cannot go overlooked any longer by fantasy owners. He put up five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in Week 13. Jackson is playable this week against the 49ers in deeper leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~12 of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Rice deserves consideration in deeper leagues.
1. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
As predicted by the Forecast last week, Lewis played a major role in the Jaguars offense with George Wrighster out. The former first-round draft pick posted five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown. In many leagues you can’t make transactions during the playoffs, which means it’s important to have backups at all positions. If that’s the case in your league and you need a reserve TE on your roster, Lewis should be at the top of your mind. He’s also a decent start this week against the Panthers, who have allowed the 12th most fantasy points to TEs this season.
Availability: Owned in ~10% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Lewis should be a fine TE2 or low-end TE1 for the remainder of the season.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
1. Buffalo Bills
The Bills get the luck of the draw this week when they face the Dolphins in what promises to be a cold, blustery upstate New York Sunday afternoon. Buffalo doesn’t have a great defense, but they typically fare well when they face lesser competition. Previously this season they held the Redskins, Dolphins, Jets (twice) and Ravens to 16 points or fewer. They should be able to accomplish that against a miserable Miami offense and don’t be surprised if they add a handful of turnovers. The Dolphins turned the ball over five times last week versus the Jets—and that was in warm, sunny Miami.
Availability: Owned in ~24% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Give the Bills a one-week start against the Dolphins.