Success in the playoffs can erase the bad breaks of a 7-6 season while struggles can reduce an 11-2 record to a meaningless afterthought. Choose your starters wisely, because you do not get a second chance this time of year. The Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers will lead the offensive categories when all is said and done this week. Hop on board and enjoy the ride.
When using this list, try and remember a couple basic rules:
1) Studs – Always play your studs. Each position will include a list of players that are considered studs and should not be benched. If you have the luxury of needing to decide between studs, check out the matchups or feel free to let the shark tank assist you in your decisions.
2) Depth – Every fantasy team is different and some have more depth than others. Only follow the recommended moves if your team depth allows you to make such a move.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay at Detroit
Philip Rivers, San Diego vs. Kansas City
Drew Brees, New Orleans vs. St. Louis
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis at Tennessee
Tom Brady, New England at Chicago
Kyle Orton, Denver at Arizona
Michael Vick, Philadelphia at Dallas
Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants at Minnesota
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
Jay Cutler, Chicago vs. New England: In the last two games, Cutler has completed 74 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions. That type of decision making is exactly what he’ll need against an opportunistic Patriots’ defense that thrived off of turnovers on Monday night. The Patriots’ pass defense has allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL and they’ll struggle this week in Chicago against a quarterback playing very well. Look for Cutler to continue his success at home as the Bears start looking towards home field in the playoffs.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore at Houston: Despite the consistent pressure on Sunday night from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, Flacco posted solid numbers in the loss, throwing for 266 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Flacco will find things much easier this week against the Texans, who rank dead last in the league in passing yards allowed. Flacco should easily surpass the 300-yard mark for the second time this season while tossing a couple scores. Don’t miss out on Flacco’s stats this week.
David Garrard, Jacksonville vs. Oakland: Don’t think that Garrard’s poor stats from last week (126 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) are a reflection of bad play on his part. It was the Maurice Jones-Drew show all day long. Garrard completed 73.7 percent of his passes when he needed to throw, which wasn’t very often. The Raiders’ defense has defended the pass much better than the run this season, so expect a similar offensive game plan from the Jaguars this week. Lots of Jones-Drew and very little Garrard, which doesn’t bode well for your starting Garrard on your fantasy team.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City at San Diego: Cassel has been a very pleasant surprise late in the season, throwing for an average of 272 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past four weeks. Looking closer, Cassel threw for less than 200 yards in two of those games and he hasn’t faced a defense as good as the Chargers since Week 9 when he played the Oakland Raiders, which, coincidentally, is the last time he threw an interception. By the way, the last time Cassel faced the Chargers was in Week 1 when he threw for 68 yards and a touchdown. That’s not a misprint: 68 yards. While he’ll do better than his week one stats, don’t expect enough to warrant a start this week on the road.
Arian Foster, Houston vs. Baltimore
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland at Buffalo
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia at Dallas
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota vs. N.Y. Giants
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville vs. Oakland
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City at San Diego
Chris Johnson, Tennessee vs. Indianapolis
Darren McFadden, Oakland at Jacksonville
Ahmad Bradshaw, N.Y. Giants at Minnesota
Matt Forte, Chicago vs. New England
Ray Rice, Baltimore at Houston
Michael Turner, Atlanta at Carolina
Steven Jackson, St. Louis at New Orleans
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay at Washington: Blount amassed his second 100-yard rushing week of his young career last week against the Atlanta Falcons as he rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown. Pretty impressive considering the Falcons are in the Top 10 in fewest rushing yards allowed this season. This week, Blount and the Buccaneers face the Redskins’ run defense that is ranked 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. Look for Blount’s success on the ground to continue as he keeps Carnell “Cadillac” Williams in the garage for another week.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver at Arizona: The patience of owners who kept Moreno on their roster earlier in the season as he dealt with hamstring injuries is really paying off lately. Moreno rushed for a season-high 161 yards last week, and although he didn’t score, he has scored in two of the past three games. With running backs coach Eric Studesville taking over head coaching duties from the recently departed Josh McDaniels, it’s a safe bet to assume the running game will continue to play a big part in the Broncos’ offensive attack, which suits Moreno and his owners just fine.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati: Don’t fret Mendenhall’s poor performance on Sunday night as he rushed for only 45 yards on 19 carries with three catches for 18 yards and no scores. The Baltimore Ravens’ defense really stepped it up and contained Mendenhall, which was clearly one of the focal points of their defensive game plan. As Mendenhall and the Steelers head home to face the Bengals, expect quite a bit more offense from Pittsburgh in both the running game and the passing game. The last time Mendenhall faced the Bengals, he rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown back in Week 9. Expect him to get that extra yard this time around and surpass 100 yards rushing for the fourth time this season.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: Despite the fact that Benson scored twice last week against the New Orleans Saints, he continues to lose carries to Bernard Scott as Benson has averaged more than 2.6 yards per carry only once in the past four games. This week, Benson faces the Steelers, who have allowed the fewest rushing yards per game at 62.2. Even if you could start the combination of Benson and Scott against Pittsburgh this week, I still wouldn’t do it. Avoid the Bengals’ running game at all costs this week.
Ronnie Brown, Miami at N.Y. Jets: If Brown was going to have a bust-out week, last week was his chance against the Cleveland Browns. Instead, we got 50 yards rushing, two catches for 20 yards and no scores. Sorry Ronnie, that’s just not good enough this late in the season. Brown rushed for 54 yards against the Jets back in Week 2, but the Jets weren’t coming off getting blown out on national television. Look for the Jets to be very angry this week and the Dolphins are the unfortunate victims. Sit your Dolphins and do it quick before you forget.
Brandon Jacobs, N.Y. Giants at Minnesota: Jacobs had his best game of the season last week, rushing just eight times for 103 yards and two touchdowns against the Washington Redskins. Despite Jacobs’ success, Ahmad Bradshaw got the majority of the carries in the second half and is clearly still the No. 1 running back for the Giants, You can expect Jacobs to carry the ball between 10-14 times this week, but you won’t get that big run against a tough Minnesota run defense warranting a start from Jacobs. If you didn’t start Jacobs last week, don’t start him this week expecting to catch lightning in a bottle again. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
Roddy White, Atlanta at Carolina
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City at San Diego
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis at Tennessee
Brandon Lloyd, Denver at Arizona
Calvin Johnson, Detroit vs. Green Bay
Terrell Owens, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Greg Jennings, Green Bay at Detroit
Andre Johnson, Houston vs. Baltimore
Marques Colston, New Orleans vs. St. Louis
Miles Austin, Dallas vs. Philadelphia
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia at Dallas: Maclin has been a very consistent piece of the Eagles’ offense this season, catching at least four passes in 10 games this season, scoring in six games and exceeding 75 yards receiving in five games. While consistency won’t win you many fantasy weeks, I expect the Eagles to pass early and often against a Dallas defense that has allowed 25 passing touchdowns this season. The Cowboys will try and take DeSean Jackson out of the offense, which will only open the field that much more for Maclin to run wild. If you’re feeling frisky, take a chance on Maclin as the Eagles light up that big scoreboard in Dallas this week.
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore at Houston: Boldin quieted the naysayers, catching five passes for 118 yards and a touchdown last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Joe Flacco likely to post huge numbers against the Texans this week, Boldin will literally be on the receiving end of the majority of Flacco’s successes. Get your Ravens in your lineup including Boldin as it’s feasting time in Houston.
Wes Welker, New England at Chicago: The Patriots have made it very clear the last few games that despite spreading the ball around to five different receivers and tight ends, Welker will get his targets no matter what. Welker has averaged seven catches over the past four games and while his yardage total hasn’t exceeded 90 yards in any of those games, he’s also caught four touchdowns during that span. The Bears’ defense will play much better at home than the Jets did in Foxborough last week, but Welker will continue to be Tom Brady’s primary target and he’ll find enough openings to make him a worthy start.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco vs. Seattle: Alex Smith returns this week at quarterback for the 49ers, which combined with the prospect of facing a poor Seahawks pass defense, should bode well for Crabtree. Yes, Vernon Davis had a monster week last week, but that’s all the more reason to believe that Seattle will focus on shutting down Davis, leaving Crabtree roaming free. Without Frank Gore, the 49ers will need to pass more often which should provide Crabtree the opportunity to shine in the passing game and the matchups won’t get much better than this.
Sidney Rice, Minnesota vs. N.Y. Giants: Without Percy Harvin in the lineup, Rice caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdown last week against the Buffalo Bills. This week, Rice faces a much tougher challenge against the Giants, who have allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game this season, allowing only 192.8 yards per game. With the question marks surrounding Brett Favre and the pressure that Tarvaris Jackson will face from the Giants’ front four, Rice isn’t going to have many opportunities to get down field and make big plays. Don’t expect a repeat performance of Rice’s numbers from last week against New York.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee vs. Indianapolis: Britt is scheduled to return to action this week after missing five games with a hamstring injury. While the Titans have clearly missed Britt as Randy Moss hasn’t done anything since joining Tennessee, they are facing a Colts’ pass defense that has played very well this season, especially compared to their run defense. Chris Johnson is licking his lips for this Thursday night matchup, and after all the yards he’s going to gain there won’t be much left for anyone else in the Titans’ offense. Get Britt back on your radar, just not in your lineup yet.
, Washington vs. Tampa Bay: Moss has caught a total of six passes for 64 yards over the past two games. Yuck. Chris Cooley has become Donovan McNabb’s favorite target and the Tampa Bay defense has defended the pass very well this season. With question marks in the running game for Washington, the offense is far from in sync and Moss will struggle to do much of anything once again this week.
Danny Amendola, St. Louis at New Orleans: Amendola has quieted down since earlier in the season, catching only five passes for 58 yards in the last two games. The Rams’ passing attack will struggle against a surging Saints pass defense who are starting to put everything together which is scary for the rest of the NFC. Amendola will continue to be Sam Bradford’s primary receiver, but even that won’t mean much this week in “The Big Easy.”
Antonio Gates, San Diego vs. Kansas City
Jason Witten, Dallas vs. Philadelphia
*Questionable for Week 14 – ankle*
Vernon Davis, San Francisco vs. Seattle
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville vs. Oakland
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit vs. Green Bay
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta at Carolina
Dustin Keller, N.Y. Jets vs. Miami
Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis at Tennessee
*Questionable for Week 14 – hamstring*
Brent Celek, Philadelphia at Dallas: Celek has finally been healthy the last two weeks and he’s had at least 50 yards receiving in each game, including a touchdown. Look for Michael Vick and the Philadelphia offense to be firing on all cylinders, and Celek will get enough chances to post his biggest game of the season in “Big D.”
Aaron Hernandez, New England at Chicago: Hernandez was a stud earlier this season, but then he hit a stretch of games between Weeks 10-12 when he caught only two passes for 26 yards in three games. Maybe he was in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse, maybe he hit on Giselle Bundchen … who knows what happened. Whatever it was, Hernandez seems to have made amends and is now back in good graces with the New England offense, which is a great sign for Hernandez owners. Look for the Patriots to challenge the Bears’ offense in the passing game as Chicago has had more success defending the run than the pass this season. Hernandez will see plenty of Brian Urlacher this week, but his young legs will win enough one-on-one matchups to make him worthy of a start.
Tony Moeaki, Kansas City at San Diego: Moeaki had more catches and yards last week (four catches, 54 yards), than he had in the previous three games combined (two catches, 40 yards). Moeaki caught three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown the last time he faced the Chargers, and those numbers would be considered a success this week. Expect less than 10 fantasy points from Moeaki this week as Matt Cassel and the Chiefs’ passing attack struggles in San Diego.
Zach Miller, Oakland at Jacksonville: Between Weeks 3-5, Miller caught 21 passes for 248 yards and three touchdown. In the last three weeks, Miller caught four passes for 20 yards and no touchdowns. Look for Miller to continue to be most valuable in blocking for Darren McFadden against the Jaguars.