In Part II of my late season schedule analysis, I'll be breaking down the fantasy playoff weeks, 14-16. In Part I, I posted my thoughts on the late season "push" weeks 10-13, click here if you missed it. Again, the criteria for my assessments were: home versus road games, the top and bottom five defenses in rushing and passing yards allowed, and the top and bottom five defenses in standard fantasy points allowed to each of the three positions I'll address. I'm going to provide three quarterbacks, three running backs, and three receivers to target, and corresponding guys whom I may be looking to move. The groupings are intended to be combinations that might be close in trade value, plausible moves, but not necessarily available for straight up deals. Today's suggestions are geared towards teams who are confident they'll make the playoffs and doesn't take into account any matchups before Week 14. Of course, the schedule information should only provide part of the picture if you're looking to evaluate trades, but knowing what lies ahead can only help.
Jay Cutler - (standard points position rank) 15 - (schedule Weeks 14-16) at DEN, vs SEA, at GB (XMas)
Cutler is far from the most likeable guy, but that could make him easy to obtain, and he's been pretty consistent so far this season. There is a risk of bad weather in his playoff schedule with games in Denver, Chicago and Green Bay, but I like his slate. He has a revenge game against his former team in his former city, a home date against a badly banged up Seahawks secondary, and a game at Green Bay that could mean nothing for the Packers, and their pass defense is ranked 31st in the league.
Josh Freeman - 12 - at JAX, vs. DAL (Sat), at CAR
After his breakout in 2010, Freeman has been a disappointment so far this season. He has nine total touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The team plays much better at home, and he'll face two road contests in the fantasy playoffs including a Week 14 game against a very tough Jacksonville defense. The one home game brings the vaunted Cowboys' pass rush to town to boot.
Matt Hasselbeck - 16 - vs. NO, at IND, vs JAX
Hasselbeck is coming off his worse performance of the season, but was very solid the first six weeks, posting a nine-to-four touchdown-to-interception ratio. He should get back on track this week versus Indianapolis, and he gets the Colts' poor pass defense again come playoff time in addition to two home games, albeit against solid competition.
Joe Flacco - 19 - vs. IND, at SD, vs CLE
Many owners might view Flacco as a buy-low candidate right now, but I don't. He's had just one touchdown pass in his last three games, and while that's bound to improve (especially this week versus Arizona), I believe coach John Harbaugh will heed the cries of his defense to return the offense to a ball-control, rushing attack. A home game versus the Colts in Week 14 is appealing, but it's followed up by a tough trip to San Diego and a matchup with the league's best pass defense in the fantasy championship week.
Matt Cassel - 25 - at NYJ, vs GB, vs OAK
Cassel followed up his best performance of the season with a real stinker at Oakland last week. He started slow, and with his team up big and his defense scoring two touchdowns, Cassel didn't get much off an opportunity to swing his day back around. Prior to last week, he had started to gain some momentum and things in Kansas City seem to be on the uptick. Week 14 pits them against the sterling Jets' pass defense, but home matchups against Green Bay and Oakland, both poor against the pass, should result in nice outings for Cassel.
Alex Smith - 20 - at ARI, vs PIT (Mon), at SEA
Smith has never held much fantasy value, but his efficiency this season has been stellar, and there could be some takers. His fantasy playoff schedule is tough. It includes a road game against division rival Arizona, a trip to the always hostile Seattle, and a home date against the Steelers' 2nd ranked pass defense sandwiched in between.
Arian Foster - 8 - at CIN, vs CAR, at IND (Thu)
The odds of anyone trading Foster at this point are very slim, but I had to include him here because his fantasy playoff schedule is the reason I supported him as a top-3 pick preseason, and continued to support him through a tough first three weeks. And, anything is possible. Aaron Rodgers was traded in one of my leagues, so if you put the right package together you never know. Week 14 pits Foster against an unexpectedly spectacular run defense in Cincinnati, but the next two games come versus the Panthers and Colts, both of whom rank in the bottom-five in run defense and points allowed to opposing running backs.
Frank Gore - 15 - at ARI, vs PIT (Mon), at SEA
Gore has been fantastic, posting three-straight games with at least 125 yards rushing and a touchdown. His inclusion on this list is really only in contrast to what it might take to get Foster. He does have two road games and a matchup with the Steelers in the fantasy playoffs, so his schedule isn't titliating, but I'm not suggesting you sell Gore in general.
Jonathan Stewart - 20 - vs ATL, at HOU, vs TB
Stewart has yet to take off, but his production has steadily increased the last two weeks. DeAngelo Williams continues to get the starting nod, but that could change down the stretch. Williams was signed to a big contract before the season and Stewart is a free agent after this season, so in a year where the Panthers don't figure to be in the playoff mix they might run Stewart (and protect Williams) while they have him. The defenses on the slate in the fantasy playoffs are solid, but two are home divisional games where Carolina could have a chance to play spoiler. Oh yeah, and Stewart will be panning for that next big contract.
Mike Tolbert - 17 - vs BUF, vs BAL, at DET
Tolbert is in a similar situation as Stewart, playing in a time-share, but his role in the immediate future seems less promising. He's almost certain to continue getting the goalline work, but the Chargers' offense is much more dynamic with Ryan Mathews in the backfield. Throw in his health issues with tough playoff matchup versus Baltimore, and at Detroit, and I'd be selling.
Shonn Greene - 21 - vs KC, at PHI, vs NYG
I've been down on Greene all year, but he's starting to show some life. He posted his first 100-yard game of the season last week, and he's received 20 carries or more in three-straight games. His fantasy playoff schedule includes two home games, a road trip to play Philadelphia's bottom-five defense against opposing running backs, and Greene historically has done his best work late in the year. Buy.
Steven Jackson - 25 - at SEA, vs CIN, at PIT
There won't be a lot of owners scrambling to buy Jackson, but past performance and reputation can linger. He's posted double-digit fantasy points in three-straight and got into the endzone for the first time since Week 1 last Sunday. Basically, I'd take whatever I could get if it looks like he could smell your lineup come playoff time. He has to travel to Seattle and Pittsburgh and his one home game comes against the Bengals' fifth ranked rush defense.
Greg Jennings - 5 - vs OAK, at KC, vs CHI (XMas)
Jennings is much like Foster in that he'll be very hard to get, but it never hurts to try. He's been one of the most consistent receivers in 2011, scoring in five of Green Bay's seven games, and reeling in less than six grabs only twice as well. None of his three playoff weeks are against strong pass defenses so whatever the price on the market, it figures to be worth it. The only risk here is that the Packers have home field wrapped up by championship week.
Hakeem Nicks - 10 - at DAL, vs WAS, at NYJ
After a breakout season in 2010, Nicks hasn't been as big a factor in the Giants' offense so far this year. There's only been two games where he's had more than four catches. Owners will still be anticipating the return to last year's form, and it might come, but if I could put together a package and upgrade I'd do it. His playoff matchups against Dallas and Washington aren't impossible, but he'll be matched up with Darrelle Revis in the all important Week 16.
Steve Johnson - 15 - at SD, vs MIA, vs DEN
Johnson, like most of his teammates, started out hot but has slowed significantly the last three weeks. After this week's contest against Washington, the Bills play three of the next four on the road, where they've struggled, including two games against the Jets and Darrelle Revis, so it might take a minute for Johnson to get back rolling. With Buffalo possibly chasing down a postseason bid late, and two nice home matchups against the Dolphins' and Broncos' weak pass defenses the final two weeks, Johnson could pay big dividends for patient owners come fantasy playoff time.
Larry Fitzgerald - 12 - vs SF, vs CLE, at CIN
Fitzgerald is a fantastic player with all the talent in the world. Unfortunately he plays a position that requires him to rely on his teammates to make use of those gifts. Four of the next five games are on the road for the Cardinals, and the schedule from Weeks 14-16 is brutal. Both Cleveland and Cincinnati have pass defenses that rank in the top five in yards and quarterback fantasy points allowed. And while the Niners are somewhat generous giving up chunks through the air, they sport the league's second-stingiest scoring defense.
Brandon Marshall - 22 - vs PHI, at BUF, at NE
Marshall's career has really taken a dip since moving to South Beach and his struggles in the red zone continue to plague his fantasy production. The talent is still there, and he continues to be a focus of the offense, so I expect some big games to come. In Weeks 15 and 16 he faces the Bills and Patriots, both of whom boast bottom-five ranked pass defenses.
Marques Colston - 23 - at TEN, at MIN, vs ATL (Mon)
In the last two weeks Colston has pulled in 14 grabs for 216 yards and three touchdowns. This week he plays the Rams. Undoubtedly, his value is going to be sky-high come next week, so maybe you could do better than Marshall in return. I like Colston as a player and he plays on a very prolific offense, but the Saints are a different team away from the Superdome and he has two road games to start the fantasy playoffs, and in the first he'll have to battle with Cortland Finnegan. Having him in your back pocket for the last game of the fantasy season in that Monday Nighter versus Atlanta would be nice, but there's a chance the Saints are resting players by then. It's a risky move, but I'd sell high.