We're fast approaching playoff time (some of you in larger league's may start this week), so this could be a pivotal matchup for many owners. Hopefully, you've kept track of the many injuries that continue to pile up and are adjusting accordingly with waiver-wire grabs. There aren't likely to be many Bryce Browns left - or in general for that matter - as the natural talent looks poised to steal a spot among the top-10 backs as long as LeSean McCoy is out. However, Knowshon Moreno returning to a starting job he once held for two years and Rashad Jennings returning to a starting role he vacated for one week provide two feature backs that may have begun this week on waivers. Others, like Shane Vereen, Jacquizz Rodgers and Bilal Powell, are carving out flex-sized roles in their respective backfields. The receiver position, while not seeing many injury-replacement studs, is still more than deep enough to find emerging talents (see rookies Justin Blackmon, T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Broyles and Mohamed Sanu for flex starts).
In the passing department this week, injuries opened the door for Colin Kaepernick and Chad Henne, each of whom has been terrific in two games with extended action. For 12-team leagues and deeper, Kaepernick already looks as if he's a weekly No. 1 option, though he has yet to be officially named the starter this week. If Kaepernick were somehow benched in favor of Alex Smith, expect the former top overall draft pick to be plenty motivated to turn in a stellar performance against the same Rams team that knocked him out a couple weeks back. For those true two-quarterback only options, Henne appears poised to climb toward the top of that list. His excellent chemistry with the young and gifted Blackmon and quietly spectacular Cecil Shorts makes it look like the recent afterthought still has a promising career as a starting NFL quarterback.
With the magnitude of playoff spots on the line this week, don't get too cute with those starting decisions. Your best players should play - regardless of matchup in most cases - and if you need a quick fix for that one last lineup hole, make sure it's a calculated option based on a combination of recent play, friendly matchup and/or, most important, opportunities to touch the ball.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Colin Kaepernick at St. Louis - Kaepernick looks like a safe bet for 200-plus passing yards and two totals touchdowns pretty much every game. Two Niners' pick-sixes were about all that held him from adding another score or two last week, and it might not be long before he's considered a top-10 fantasy quarterback. If you own him, it's awfully hard to bench him.
2. Josh Freeman at Denver - Freeman's 6-game streak of multi-touchdown performances came to an abrupt halt when he couldn't get into the end zone a single time versus Atlanta last week. Although he faces a Denver defense ranked fifth in the league in passing yards allowed (just 210 per game), look for Freeman to get back on track. The Broncos have given up 18 scores through the air, and considering the Bucs bring the league's worst pass defense to Mile High, Peyton Manning and Co. have a good shot at making Freeman play catch-up through the thin Denver air.
3. Chad Henne at Buffalo - With the emergence of Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon as playmakers the Jaguars have found a productive passing game for the first time in years. Of course, Henne has had a lot to do with that. Over his last nine quarters he's thrown for a whopping 736 yards and seven touchdowns at a ridiculous 9.8 yards per attempt. It's hard to imagine a weak Buffalo pass defense slowing his hot streak down too much.
4. Matt Schaub at Tennessee - The Texans have to start saving Arian Foster for the playoffs at least a little, don't they? That means Schaub should continue to get extra work out his arm whether the Titans can keep this game competitive or not. With Andre Johnson playing at a historic level lately, that figures to translate into solid production from Schaub yet again.
5. Philip Rivers vs. Cincinnati - Rivers has only thrown 40 passes in a game three times this season. When he did hit that threshold, Rivers registered at least 240 yards and two scores each time. Given the dominant way the Bengals have won their last three games by a combined 64 points and are having little difficulty moving the ball, expect Rivers to post game No. 4 with 40-plus tosses.
6. Ryan Tannehill vs. New England - For deeper leagues it's worth noting that Tannehill somehow completed 69 percent of his passes for 253 yards and a score versus an elite Seattle pass defense that's among the best in the league in touchdowns and yards allowed through the air. And he did that damage while averaging nearly 10.0 yards per attempt as the Dolphins ran it more than they threw it. Facing a Patriots team that's among the worst pass defenses in the league and is sure to force Tannehill into more dropbacks, the rookie may be one of the week's sneakiest starts.
1. Davone Bess vs. New England - Bess has seen 20 targets the last two weeks and has at least 11 fantasy points in each of those contests. He just posted a career-high 129 yards on Seattle's ultra-stingy corners in a relatively close game that saw Miami run 28 times to 26 pass attempts. Against a much weaker New England secondary in a game in which Miami is surely going to have to throw it 35-40 times at least, expect another strong performance from Bess.
2. Justin Blackmon at Buffalo - In the last two weeks, Blackmon has racked up 310 total yards. Although the majority of that damage came in a shootout with Houston, it's hard to ignore the 19 targets and 13 touches he's seen in that stretch. It's clear that Blackmon is building a strong chemistry with Chad Henne, and the Jaguars want to involve him more in the offense. A Bills team that has been badly exposed on defense multiple times this year is about to learn that firsthand.
3. Mohamed Sanu at San Diego - If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sanu has four touchdowns in his last three games and is fast becoming a favorite of Andy Dalton's inside the red zone.
4. Jacquizz Rodgers vs. New Orleans - Rodgers is slowly starting to steal Michael Turner's job as the lead runner in the Atlanta backfield. He received just three fewer carries last week and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt against Tampa Bay's top-ranked rush defense while totaling 79 yards and his first rushing score of the season. Turner, meanwhile, averaged a pathetic 1.3 yards per carry last week and was useless to the tune of 13 carries for 15 yards in Atlanta's trip to New Orleans just a couple weeks back. Expect the expansion of Rodger's role to continue versus the Saints dead-last run defense, and similar or better results could follow last week's career game.
5. Knowshon Moreno vs. Tampa Bay - Although the Bucs still boast the best run defense in terms of yards allowed per carry and game, they have given up nine scores on the ground. After racking up 24 touches last week it seems apparent Moreno is the back that Denver plans to move forward with this year. So even though Tampa may well keep him from the 100-plus total yards he registered versus Kansas City, the sheer volume of touches could translate to nice flex numbers.
6. Mark Ingram at Atlanta - Ingram might be sharing touches with Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles and even Pierre Thomas some, but he's still the Saints' goal-line back. With Drew Brees slinging it, New Orleans will get in close, which could lead to scoring chances for Ingram. Furthermore, he should find plenty of running room between the 20s versus a Falcons defense that allows 4.8 yards per carry and likely will drop five and six players into coverage often for fear of Brees burning them for big gains.
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