1. Joe Flacco, Ravens
Flacco may be trailing Matt Ryan in the Rookie of the Year race, but he’s already won the attention of fantasy owners. Flacco has multiple touchdown passes in four of his last five outings. This includes a 280-yard, 2-TD game on Sunday against the Bengals. Although his schedule stiffens over the next few games (WAS, PIT and DAL), Flacco is a viable backup QB for fantasy purposes and can be used when your other options aren’t good.
Availability: Owned in ~49% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Flacco is a fine backup QB for teams that will make the playoffs.
2. Daunte Culpepper, Lions
Culpepper is far too risky if you’re in the playoff mix; however, if your team has been eliminated and you’re playing the role of spoiler, you could do worse. Culpepper will face his former team, the Vikings, this week. Revenge appears to be an effective motivator for Culpepper. He’s twice gone up against former teams—both times turning in quality fantasy performances. Minnesota ranks 21st in the NFL against the pass. The Forecast thinks 250 yards and two touchdowns is realistic for Culpepper.
Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Culpepper is a decent sleeper play as long as your entire 2008 season isn’t on the line.
1. Pierre Thomas, Saints
Thomas was one of the most sought after players on the fantasy free agent market last week, but he’s still available in close to 40% of all leagues. With four touchdowns in his last three games, he’s become a reliable RB. The Saints have a decent schedule coming up that includes games against the Falcons in Week 14 and Lions in Week 16. Consider Thomas a passable second RB or flex player over that period. Keep your eye on him for 2009 as he’ll likely form a dynamic tandem with Reggie Bush.
Availability: Owned in ~62% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Thomas should be owned in all leagues.
2. Justin Fargas, Raiders
To be honest, I don’t know why Fargas is only owned in 66% of fantasy leagues. He’s scored a touchdown or exceeded 100 yards in two straight games, and he continues to get the lion’s share of the carries for the Raiders. Sure, rookie Darren McFadden is the flashier ball carrier, but in fantasy football, performance is tied to opportunity. Generally, you’re better off with the guy who gets 20 carries per game. Give Fargas a look if you need RB depth for your fantasy playoffs.
Availability: Owned in ~66% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Fargas isn’t getting enough respect and is a useful RB in all leagues.
3. Chester Taylor, Vikings
Taylor has scored in back-to-back weeks and has seen a slight increase in his workload over the past few games. As we enter the fantasy postseason, he’s a must-have handcuff for Adrian Peterson owners. But if the Peterson owner in your league is too naïve to realize the value of Taylor, grab him yourself. If he continues to get 12 or more touches per game, he will continue to be fantasy relevant. With a game this week against the Lions, Taylor is a sneaky play and could pick up some solid garbage time production.
Availability: Owned in ~65% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Taylor is worth a look in all leagues.
4. Brandon Jackson, Packers
After Green Bay’s Ryan Grant suffered a hand injury against the Panthers, back-up Brandon Jackson took the field and for perhaps the first time in his professional career he looked like a capable RB. He rushed the ball 11 times for 80 yards. Grant apparently could’ve returned, but the coaches opted to keep him on the sidelines because they were concerned he might fumble—something that’s been an issue with Grant in the past. If those concerns linger, Jackson could again get the nod. Grant will apparently have to wear a splint on his thumb, so his chances of playing may be no better than 50/50. With a matchup against Houston (on a short week’s rest no less), Jackson is a smart free agent pickup.
Availability: Owned in ~16% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Jackson could produce this week against the Texans if he starts.
5. Tashard Choice, Cowboys
Marion Barber III suffered a sprained pinkie toe in Week 13. Head coach Wade Phillips indicated he was concerned about the injury but didn’t elaborate. If Barber can’t go, Tashard Choice would be in line for the start against the Steelers. Given the difficulty of that matchup, Choice’s upside is limited. Still, toe injuries have caused several RBs to miss time this season. If Barber were to be sidelined for more than one week, Choice could be quite valuable—especially with the resurgence of the Cowboys offense.
Availability: Owned in ~5% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Grab Choice in case Marion Barber’s injured toe keeps him out.
6. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
When Williams was pulled off the physically unable to perform list, the Forecast suggested to add him only as a speculative RB. Coming off a knee injury, he seemed like a longshot to contribute much to the fantasy arena. However, now that Earnest Graham is out of the picture, Williams has the potential to make some noise. Although he was not a featured part of the offense (four carries), Williams did manage to score a touchdown on Sunday against the Saints. Keep in mind this was just his second week of work since returning to the team. With upcoming meetings against the Panthers, Falcons and Chargers, Williams might be a decent backup in deep leagues.
Availability: Owned in ~50% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Williams is worth a look in all leagues.
1. Domenik Hixon and Amani Toomer, Giants
Hixon was trumpeted here last week when it looked like Plaxico Burress’ hamstring might keep him out. Now with Burress fighting a legal battle, Hixon’s value is even greater. Look for he and Amani Toomer to step up and become viable fantasy players over the final four games of the NFL regular season. Both wideouts turned in quality fantasy performances on Sunday against the Redskins. Hixon caught five passes for 71 yards while Toomer hauled in five for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Forecast likes Hixon as a regular fantasy starter in performance and PPR leagues while Toomer may be better suited for spot duty.
Availability: Owned in ~29% and ~35% of leagues respectively.
Forecast guidance: Hixon and Toomer are great pickups in all leagues.
2. Isaac Bruce, 49ers
Bruce started off the season red hot, scoring four touchdowns in his first five games as a 49er. Then, he disappeared for several weeks. Now he’s back to being a relevant wideout for fantasy purposes. Bruce has racked up 192 yards and two touchdowns over the past couple games. With the Jets, Dolphins and Rams on tap next, Bruce could contribute to your fantasy team as a third receiver or flex player. All three of those opponents rank in the bottom half of the NFL in pass defense.
Availability: Owned in ~71% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Bruce should be owned in all leagues.
3. Mark Clayton, Ravens
Now that the Ravens are finally getting good play out of their QB position, WR Mark Clayton is starting to live up to his potential. He’s posted 240 yards and two touchdowns over the last two weeks. Plus he threw a TD-pass in Week 13 against the Bengals. Clayton has now scored in three of his last five outings. He’s a quality backup WR, who can be used when a favorable matchup arises. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s schedule over the next few games won’t work in Clayton’s favor. The team faces the Redskins, Steelers and Cowboys. Still, consider him a passable third receiver this week.
Availability: Owned in ~15% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Clayton is worth a look in all leagues and is a must-grab in dynasty leagues.
4. Davone Bess, Dolphins
The Forecast listed Bess as a sleeper pickup at the WR position last week. With Greg Camarillo out for the season, Bess turned in his second straight game with 80+ yards. As long as Chad Pennington stays healthy, there’s no reason why Bess won’t continue to grab 5-6 passes per game. Pennington threw his way 10 times on Sunday against the Rams. Miami faces a relatively easy schedule in the weeks ahead with games against the Bills, 49ers and Chiefs.
Availability: Owned in ~12% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Take a look at Bess in all leagues but give him added attention in PPR leagues.
5. Deion Branch, Seahawks
Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck threw Branch’s way 11 times on Thursday. The duo hooked up on five receptions for 56 yards. That’s not huge production but it bodes well for Branch going forward. A matchup this week at home against the Patriots, Branch’s former team, is intriguing. New England has allowed 21 passing scores this season, tied for second most in the NFL. If you’re desperate for help at WR this week, consider adding Branch and playing him.
Availability: Owned in ~25% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Branch is worth consideration for a spot start this week in deep leagues.
1. Zach Miller, Raiders
Fantasy owners in general have an aversion to owning Oakland players (see Justin Fargas above). However, Zach Miller is a top 12 TE. Don’t believe me? Check out his recent stats. Miller has exceeded 40 yards receiving in eight of his last nine games. Although the touchdown production hasn’t been there for Miller, he’s a consistent contributor—especially in PPR leagues. Don’t hesitate to pick him up and play him against a Chargers team that gets stomped by just about every TE it faces. Miller had a career game against San Diego earlier this year, posting 95 yards and a touchdown.
Availability: Owned in ~46% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Miller should be owned in all TE-mandatory leagues.
2. Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller has been impressive since returning from an injury two weeks ago. After recording 44 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals in Week 12, he caught four passes for 60 yards against the Patriots in Week 13. Up next, Miller will face a Cowboys defense that was abused by rookie TE John Carlson last week. If you’re desperate for TE help as your team enters the postseason, consider Miller a serviceable option even though Pittsburgh has some tough games ahead.
Availability: Owned in ~57% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Miller is worth a look this week against the Cowboys.
1. Dan Carpenter, Dolphins
Normally a road game against Buffalo in December would be a situation to avoid. However, this week’s tilt against the Bills will actually be played in Toronto inside the comfortable confines of a dome. Consider adding Miami kicker Dan Carpenter, who has missed just two field goals this season. Prior to last week’s snooze-fest against the 49ers, Buffalo’s defense had allowed 20 or more points per game. In his last meeting against the Bills, Carpenter scored 11 points. He should approach double-digits again. If your league doesn’t allow transactions in the playoffs, Carpenter is still a good option with games against the 49ers (Week 15) and Chiefs (Week 16).
Availability: Owned in ~9% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: Carpenter is usable for this week’s game against the Bills in Toronto.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
1. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts defense stepped up in Week 13, holding the Browns to just six points. In the process they collected two turnovers, three sacks and a defensive touchdown. With an upcoming home game against the Bengals, Indianapolis is a quality pickup this week. The Bengals are last in the NFL in scoring offense, averaging just 12.6 points per game. The team has given up 43 sacks, second most in the NFL. Look for the Colts to rank among the top five team defenses in Week 14.
Availability: Owned in ~54% of leagues.
Forecast guidance: The Colts are worth a spot start this week against the Bengals.