Last week I mulled the unthinkable concept of benching Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs due to the superstar's recent struggles. I used Russell Wilson as the primary example of the type of hot quarterback to consider replacing him with because I faced that exact choice in two leagues. As it turns out, I couldn't pull the trigger on the switch. Fortunately, Rodgers' play was strong enough that benching the top scoring quarterback in both leagues made no difference (cards on the table, I did get obliterated by my brother in one league - thanks a lot Doug Martin, Stevan Ridley and Demaryius Thomas). Although the more than 10-point difference in quarterbacks didn't affect me last week, it certainly could have, and it's these type of hard choices that will decide many Super Bowls or playoffs this week.
Injuries and tough matchups dictate difficult lineup calls throughout the season but when it comes down to one game, one more week for it all, I generally approve of swinging for the fences with a bold, if not downright gutsy move. Many things should influence such a decision, but most important among them should be your opponent and the overall strength of his team and matchups. A risky move makes the most sense if the week appears to heavily favor your opponent, as it obviously makes more sense to play it safe if your team has considerably better matchups. Usually by the end of the season defensive trends have become predictable enough to gauge what matchups are the best or worst, but this season has been a rollercoaster of surprises. Few things are sure bets these days when Doug Martin is getting stoned by the Saints and Vick Ballard is gouging the Texans front seven. That means any roll of the dice this week needs to be a combination of one part calculation, two parts gut.
Trusting your gut is an important ingredient to Super Bowl week one way or another. Only one team can win it, but if that's not you, at least you went with what you believed. So if your gut says Jamaal Charles can't be productive in such a mess of an offense or Demaryius Thomas will stay quiet with a bad corner matchup against Joe Haden and in a likely blowout, then bench those stars. Take a chance if you feel better about it, but do so only if you can answer two things about a stud's replacement: 1) Can I stomach an offseason knowing I benched X 1,000-yard back, receiver or stud QB for Y timeshare, hit-or-miss gamble AND it backfired? and 2) Am I confident that my usual bench guy will see enough opportunities or has the big-play ability in him to out-produce my usual stud? If those are both yes, then feel free to swing away.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Carson Palmer at Carolina - Although he's had a couple hiccups in the last four weeks, Palmer has still been one of the more consistently solid fantasy producers over the latter half of the season. He's notched at least two touchdowns in seven of his last nine games. I referred to him as the "King of Garbage Time" last week, and he fit that name perfectly as he did nothing while playing with a lead the entire game against a dreadful Chiefs team. Traveling to face a Carolina squad that's clicking offensively, though, figures to put him back in familiar territory: passing constantly in catch-up mode.
2. Sam Bradford at Tampa Bay - Bradford tied or set nearly every single-game career high last week with 35 completions on 55 attempts for 377 yards and three scores against the Vikings' usually competitive pass defense. Getting the league's worst versus the throw on the road should provide a healthy encore for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, particularly with Danny Amendola back in the lineup.
3. Russell Wilson vs. San Francisco - That 122-yard, zero touchdown performance in an ugly loss in San Francisco feels like it was another career ago for Wilson, though it was just Week 7. The rookie star has come a long way in the seven games since, having totaled 16 scores over that span while throwing only two interceptions. So while the 49ers defense is sure to rattle him at times, I'd feel more than comfortable counting on Wilson as a second starter in two-quarterback leagues (and as a No. 1 depending on the other options) even with a Super Bowl on the line. He's that gifted.
4. Kirk Cousins at Philadelphia - Of course, this option goes out the window if Robert Griffin III (knee) returns, but should Cousins draw his second start he's a terrific option in two-quarterback leagues. With the ability to read the field like a veteran, the touch and accuracy to make most throws, and underrated mobility, Cousins is reminiscent of a young Matt Ryan, but in an offense more conducive to fantasy production. If he gets to face an Eagles defense that's given up 26 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, expect Cousins to pick them apart.
5. Joe Flacco vs. New York Giants - Matt Ryan abused a banged up Giants secondary last week, and in bad need of a victory to clinch the AFC North, Flacco will look to have a similar performance. Although he may be without deep threat Torrey Smith (concussion), Flacco still has enough weapons to put together a strong performance as long as he's protected from New York's disruptive front four. Count on a Giants D that's dead last in yards per attempt allowed (8.2) and 28th in yards per game through the air (254) to give up some big plays to a desperate Ravens offense.
6. Chad Henne vs. New England - In four career meetings with New England, Henne has topped 300 yards on three occasions, including a career-high 416 in 2011. While a nice history versus a team certainly isn't a precursor of future success, it is worth noting that he never had more than one playmaking receiver when he faced the Patriots. With Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon both performing at a high level, Henne has a good opportunity to bounce back from a couple ugly efforts.
1. Greg Jennings vs. Tennessee -Sadly, Jennings has been nothing more than a deep-league flex this year even when he's been healthy enough to play. Since returning from an abdominal tear, Jennings has registered just 123 yards in three contests and hasn't come close to scoring. That may all change this week, however, when a re-focused and sharper Aaron Rodgers carves up a bad Tennessee defense that's really only limited the likes of Mark Sanchez and Ryan Tannehill.
2. Mark Ingram at Dallas - In five of his last six games, Ingram has at least 65 yards rushing or a touchdown and somehow posted a career game last week versus Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense. He torched the Bucs for 90 yards and a score on just 14 carries, going for a full 3.0 more yards per attempt than the Bucs had allowed. Prior to stifling the Steelers sluggish ground game last week the Cowboys had been miserable versus the run, giving up nearly 500 rushing yards in their previous three contests. Ingram seems poised to remind them of those struggles.
3. Brandon Gibson at Tampa Bay - The Bucs have been abused by everyone through the air this season and since that trend isn't stopping anytime soon, Gibson, the Rams leader in receiving scores, should find himself with another nice statline this week. He's coming off consecutive games with six grabs and has 176 yards and a TD over that span. Expect him to stay hot for at least one more week.
4. Beanie Wells vs. Chicago - Wells benefited greatly from turnovers last week, and Jay Cutler has been known to give the ball away from time to time. Whether that happens, though, count on Wells remaining the primary weapon in one of the most limited passing offenses in years. While he's highly unlikely to find the end zone three times again, a Bears defense that allows 4.4 yards per carry may still make Wells look good. And though many may have buried him already this season (myself included), it must be noted that Wells has punched in five touchdowns in the last four games and notched 10 last year playing on a bum knee most of the way.
5. Antonio Brown vs. Cincinnati - Since returning from an ankle sprain, Brown has totaled at least 60 yards or scored in three straight and just turned in one of his best games of the season with 76 yards and a touchdown against a tough Cowboys secondary. More important, he's seen at least nine targets in all of those contests, which means the opportunities will continue. Brown had his best yardage game of the season in Pittsburgh's previous meeting with Cincinnati when he snagged seven balls for 96 yards, and with a run game that's badly underperforming, Ben Roethlisberger will need his help once again.
6. Joique Bell vs. Atlanta - The Lions were beyond horrible last week, but a home game should allow them to bounce back despite drawing the top team in the NFC. Atlanta is 1-2 in their last two road games and the lone victory came by just a point against a Tampa Bay team that has since collapsed. Bell failed to reach the 9.5 fantasy point mark he'd hit for three straight, but a Falcons unit giving up 4.9 yards per carrying could be nice medicine for him and the Lions backfield.
7. Rod Streater at Carolina - Streater is quickly becoming a favorite target of Carson Palmer's and that is evident in the 250-plus yards he's totaled over the last three weeks. A competent big-play threat with sticky hands, Streater has posted that damage on just 12 grabs. In a game that figures to see the Raiders passing frequently from behind, don't be surprised when Streater is the leader once again for an Oakland offense in bad need of a consistent outside threat.
Follow @Hoover_L_A on Twitter.