1. Kevin Smith is a serious threat to Jahvid Best
If Jahvid Best makes a return from his concussion issues during this regular season, he still has next to no chance of taking over the role he had in the season's first six games - a stretch that saw him average 18.5 touches per game.
Even before you factor in Best's extreme injury concerns, it's safe to say that, up to this point in his career, he has demonstrated that he isn't fit for a feature-back role, even in Detroit's pass-happy offense. His rushing average from 2011 (4.6 yards per carry) is a big improvement over his unacceptable 3.2 average from 2010, but the difference is minimal in the big picture. Best ran for 163 yards on 12 carries against Chicago in Week 5, but otherwise has just 227 yards on 72 carries. That's an average of 3.15 yards per carry.
With production like that, even the likes of Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams are a threat to steal early-down work. So Kevin Smith's 16-carry, 140-yard showing against Carolina on Sunday definitely ought to reduce Best to a situational player, particularly given Smith's pre-injury track record. Smith totaled 1,262 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2008.
Smith, in any case, is a must-own in probably all leagues after putting up 201 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns against the Panthers. Few, if any, defenses are less competent than Carolina's, but that's a performance worth gambling on, particularly in an offense that moves the ball as well as Detroit's.
2. LeGarrette Blount should finish strong
It seems unlikely that he'll ever get passing-down work, but Sunday's game against Green Bay was the clearest illustration yet of how the Buccaneers need to get Blount the ball more.
Excluding a Week 5 game against San Francisco in which he left early with a knee injury, Blount averages 20.7 carries per game in victories for which he's been active this year, while in the losses he averages just 11.5 carries. In 2010, starting with Blount's first double-digit carry game in Week 7, it was 18.6 carries per victory and 15.3 per loss. Of course, whether Tampa is facing a point deficit plays a role in how the team calls its plays, but it's not as if the passing game is the most rational means of closing a gap if Josh Freeman throws just one touchdown pass for every 34.4 pass attempts. That final point should have become especially clear to Tampa Bay coaches in light of Blount's crazed 54-yard rampage of a touchdown run Sunday.
Even if they still manage to miss the memo, however, Blount looks like a good running back option heading into the final stretch due to the fact that his remaining pre-Week 17 schedule combines to allow roughly 4.5 yards per carry, as well as an average of .92 rushing touchdowns per game. In addition, those five opponents average a combined 20.6 points per game while allowing a combined 23.1 points per game, so Tampa's chance of seeing early deficits should be much lower now that it isn't facing the likes of Green Bay, Houston, New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco.
3. Matt Leinart shouldn't hurt Andre Johnson's numbers much
Andre Johnson owners should consider any drop in the wideout's value due to Matt Leinart taking over for Matt Schaub (foot) to be negligible.
Not only is Johnson, who's expected to return this week from a hamstring injury, one of the rare receiver talents who should be able to produce despite playing with a backup-caliber quarterback, but his situation should remain surprisingly favorable due to the fear instilled in defenses by the Houston rushing attack.
With or without Schaub, opponents have to worry about Arian Foster and Ben Tate before anything else when facing the Houston offense. Despite respectively playing in just eight and nine of 10 games this year, Foster and Tate have combined for 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, while Foster's 445 receiving yards give safeties further reason to keep their eyes in the backfield.
Against a receiver as skilled as Johnson, defenses can't be distracted by the backfield and consistently get away with it. It will be disappointing if Johnson doesn't post at least 400 yards and four touchdowns the next five weeks, particularly with Carolina and Indianapolis on the schedule, not to mention Jacksonville and Cincinnati defenses that are without their arguably best corners (Rashean Mathis and Leon Hall, respectively).
4. For the WR-needy, Titus Young could be worth a gamble
In deep leagues, at least, there are worse pickups to be made than Detroit wideout Titus Young.
Considering he missed most of the preseason with leg issues, Young's performances lately have been fairly encouraging. He has 13 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets the last three games.
As long as Nate Burleson serves strictly as a possession target (he's averaging just 9.5 yards per catch this year), Young has a decent chance to emerge as the team's second-best receiver behind Calvin Johnson. On a team averaging 40.1 pass attempts per game, that could make Young worth at least a bench spot for fantasy owners, particularly with shootout-friendly matchups like Green Bay, New Orleans and San Diego remaining on Detroit's schedule.
5. If Malcom Floyd remains out, expect Vincent Brown to bounce back
Brown had a rough game against the Bears on Sunday, catching just one pass for eight yards on four targets, but he should be expected to do much better, at least as long as Malcom Floyd (hip) remains out.
The Bears have been tough against the pass the last three weeks, holding Michael Vick, Matt Stafford and Philip Rivers to a combined 75-of-132 (56.8 percent completed) for 822 yards (6.2 YPA), three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Given that, Brown's weak showing Sunday can be forgiven, particularly considering he drew a pass interference call in the red zone at one point.
In any case, the Chargers have a home matchup this week against a Denver defense that ranks in the bottom five in quarterback rating allowed (96.4). If Floyd misses this one, expect Brown to produce more like he did in his two games prior to Sunday, when he totaled nine catches for 176 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets.