Matt Ryan, QB, ATL – After recording a 137.3 QB rating in a near flawless performance last week, Ryan has a 17:4 TD:INT ratio over the past seven games, taking just eight sacks over that span. He continues to play better at home and has hiked his YPA up, and while the Falcons are rightfully underdogs Monday night against the Saints, the over/under is 52.5, so it should be a high-scoring affair that requires a lot of passing by Ryan. Meanwhile, Roddy White has 38 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns over the past five games; there isn’t a hotter receiver in the league.
Reggie Bush, RB, MIA – Bush was given 25 carries in a game Sunday for the first time in his career, and the result was 203 rushing yards (8.1 YPC). He has now run for at least 100 yards in three straight games and has six touchdowns over his past seven contests. Despite not getting 15 rushing attempts in a game until Week 8 this season, Bush is on pace to finish with 1,421 yards from scrimmage. Pro Football Focus rates Bush as the second worst blocker among all running backs in the league this year, but he’s clearly improved greatly as a runner inside the tackles. Who would have thought he’d have more success on grass than turf?
C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF – Like Bush, Spiller was once thought of as a draft bust. However, he had never shown even glimpses of hope until recently, thanks mostly to Fred Jackson landing to the IR. Spiller totaled 168 yards on just 21 touches Sunday, a number that included nine receptions. He also added two touchdowns, doubling his season mark in the process. He is up to 5.0 YPC on the year and suddenly looks like an excellent start in PPR leagues as the team’s new feature back. Things will get crowded next year once Jackson returns to Buffalo’s backfield, but Spiller has got 3.0 YPC after contact this season, which is tied for eighth best among running backs.
Donald Brown, RB, IND – Brown ran for a career-high 161 yards last week, thanks largely to an 80-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The play highlighted Brown’s breakaway speed, as he got to the corner and never looked back. Brown entered the year averaging just 3.8 YPC over the first two seasons of his career, but he’s all the way up to 5.1 in 2011. His 3.2 YPC after contact is tied for fourth among all backs in football. Still just 24 years old, Brown might have quietly emerged as Indy’s feature back of the future in an otherwise lost year for the franchise.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, OAK – It’s been an up-and-down year for Heyward-Bey, who averaged 96.3 receiving yards over a four-game stretch from Weeks 4-7, only to average just 21.6 receiving yards over the next five contests. He mysteriously disappeared from the game plan coming off the team’s Week 8 bye and clearly struggled to develop a rapport with new quarterback Carson Palmer. DHB also got banged up physically. With the rest of Oakland’s receiving corps ravaged by injuries, and Heyward-Bey back to health, the third-year wideout has racked up 13 catches for 233 yards over the past two contests, and he’s scored twice over the past three games. Heyward-Bey has been targeted 36 times over the past month, so he’s firmly back on the fantasy radar.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, NE – Hernandez caught nine balls on 11 targets for 129 yards and a score Sunday. One of those misfires would have resulted in an easy second touchdown, but Tom Brady missed him while wide open. He also had another play in the end zone that could have easily been ruled a catch (still not sure why Bill Belichick didn’t even challenge it), and was tackled inside the one yard line on another, so Hernandez could have had a truly monstrous day. Despite being overshadowed by teammate Rob Gronkowski, and playing hobbled with a knee brace for most of the season, Hernandez is still on pace to finish with 844 receiving yards over 14 games played. He’s also been targeted 21 times in the red zone, and there’s no reason to think two tight ends can’t be plenty productive in New England’s passing attack, as he’s typically split wide anyway. Hernandez leads all tight ends with 21 broken tackles this season. To put that in perspective, no other tight end in the NFL has broken more than 10 this year.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, TB – Blount has picked up 21 total yards or fewer in two of the past three games. He has really suffered from Tampa Bay’s downfall since the offense has to play catch-up all the time, and he does not play on passing downs. He has also fumbled four times (losing three) over the past four contests and offers nothing as a receiver. Blount remains a tackle-breaking machine in the open field, but he must improve his overall game to enter the fantasy elite.
Mike Williams, WR, TB – Williams was held without a catch in Week 14, coming up small during a big week for most fantasy owners. He has yet to reach 100 yards in a game this season and has scored just three touchdowns after reaching the end zone 11 times as a rookie last year. Williams’ eight dropped passes are tied for the eighth most among wide receivers, and he’s also committed a whopping six penalties on the year. He’s certainly been hurt by Josh Freeman’s regression in 2011, but Williams has struggled to gain separation. He is a risky fantasy start in Week 16, even against a Carolina defense that has allowed an NFL-high 8.3 YPA this season.
Anquan Boldin, WR, BAL – Boldin will soon have surgery to repair a slight tear in his meniscus and is expected to be sidelined for the next two weeks, which means he should be back for the playoffs, but his regular season is finished. Boldin averaged more yards per game during his second year in Baltimore (63.4) than his first (52.3), but his touchdowns dropped from seven to three. He’ll be 32 years old entering 2012 and has taken a lot of hits throughout his career, so his fantasy stock is on the decline.
Caleb Hanie, QB, CHI – Hanie was dreadful Sunday, averaging 4.8 YPA while taking four sacks and throwing three picks. He has now been intercepted three times in three of his four starts this season. His impressive performance during the second half of last year’s NFC Championship game clearly clouded the judgment of a Chicago team that should have addressed the backup quarterback position in the offseason. Chicago’s season is probably over, but the team will turn to Josh McCown now at quarterback. McCown can’t possibly be any worse, but he threw a pick during his two pass attempts in relief last week, hasn’t played much since 2007 and owns a career 6.2 YPA mark. And he will face the Packers coming off their first loss of the season.
Johnny Knox, WR, CHI – Knox suffered a season-ending back injury Sunday in what looked like one of the more gruesome hits of the year, bending his body in a position that would be described as anything but natural. The good news is that there should be no long-term effects, which wasn’t initially clear when he left the stadium in a gurney. Knox will likely be back next year with the Bears, but the team should upgrade their receiving corps during the offseason. Moreover, in the short-term, teammate Marion Barber is losing plenty of touches to Khalil Bell, and in an offense that struggles to reach the red zone, his fantasy value is minimal even as the designated goalline back.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT – Roethlisberger predictably played though his ankle injury Monday night but was clearly hampered by it, resulting in zero touchdowns and four turnovers. He later said he didn’t do any further damage to his ankle, but it sounds like there’s a real chance he sits out Week 15 in what appears to be an easily winnable home game against the Rams. Charlie Batch would get the start, but Roethlisberger’s absence would also mean a downgrade for Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.