We have reached the finish line of another fantasy season here at the Waiver Wire Report, which means Championship Week! I try to avoid talking about my teams throughout the season, but hopefully you all have at least a couple teams playing for all the marbles this week. I had three teams in the semis last week, and two survived to battle this week. One is in a local league that I have been trying to win for years, and it will mark the third time in four years that I have managed to reach the title game. I have unfortunatley come away empty twice before. Once was the year Tony Romo hurt his hand and had to leave the game. That one still stings. This year my team is led by none other than DeMarco Murray, who of course left last week's game with a broken finger. I am certain I am not the only one who has ridden Murray this far, and I am hoping he can suit up for me this week in my quest to finally win the crown that has eluded me. Before we get to this week's list, I just want to take a moment to thank those of you who have tuned in every week and wish you the best of luck with your own playoff battle this week.
Alex Smith, KC - Andy Reid has finally loosened the strings on his offense and his quarterback the last few weeks, allowing Smith to toss seven touchdowns over the last four weeks. This week’s matchup against the Steelers' suspect secondary sets him up for another strong outing. There isn’t a ton of upside here, but he should be a safe bet for a solid showing this week if you have doubts about your starter or are facing weather or injury issues.
Robert Griffin III, WAS - Colt McCoy’s neck injury flared up again, which allowed Griffin to get back under center with pretty positive results. He showed that he can still use his legs effectively if needed and if McCoy can’t go, he would be in line to get the start against the Eagles' generous defense. Rolling Griffin out for the most important week of the season won’t be for the timid, but the one upside of playing Philly is the fact that their uptempo style provides extra opportunities for their opponents to exploit their own weak secondary.
Cam Newton, CAR - There is a chance Newton was dropped in the wake of his car accident, but with the playoffs still a possibility, he might just suit up this week against a Browns team that looked like they quit last week against the Bengals.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton will get the attention of a lot of streamers this week due to the matchup with Oakland. The fact is he hasn’t been very good of late and the Bills could suffer a letdown traveling across the country to play in Oakland. Don’t force him into your lineups.
Joseph Randle/Lance Dunbar, DAL - DeMarco Murray owners who are still alive will be first in line for Randle’s services this week after Murray broke a bone in his left hand last week. At this point, he is listed as questionable which would give Randle the start as the primary runner and short yardage back. The Cowboys' offensive line is one of the best in the game and the Colts defense can be run against. Randle is a capable back who can churn out the tough yards, but let’s face it, he isn’t Murray. The fact is if Murray sits, Dunbar will get plenty of work as well, especially on third downs or when the Cowboys go into a hurry-up/passing mode. Randle has more upside as the primary runner/goal-line back while Dunbar profiles more as a flex-worthy plug-n-play option.
Matt Asiata, MIN - Asiata is what he is, an average talent who has shown the ability to punch it in from up close. He has been getting the bulk of the carries the last three weeks for the Vikings and even got involved in the passing game last week, giving him some extra touches that he wasn’t getting before. If you lose Murray this week and can’t get your hands on Randle, then Asiata may be your best alternative.
Toby Gerhart, JCK - It can get ugly this time of year when you are scrambling for guys to possibly get you over the top, and no one personifies this better than one of this season’s biggest draft busts. But it is Week 16, and Gerhart is getting the touches and gets to face the Titans this week. If you are desperate, then you could turn to him at the flex spot and hope that he can churn out some yards and maybe find his way into the endzone for the second time this year.
Knile Davis made the list last week when it looked like Jamaal Charles might miss some time. Charles played, but Davis wound up hitting paydirt twice, likely on someone’s bench. He is a Hail Mary play again this week. Alfonso Smith could get the call if Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde can’t suit up. C.J. Spiller was activated from the I.R. and should get back into action this week. The Bills are fighting to get into the playoffs, and stranger things have happened than a talent like Spiller making a splash in the finals.
Harry Douglas, ATL - Douglas gets a bump up the list after stepping in for Julio Jones last week and putting up a ten-catch, 131-yard performance. The matchup against the Steelers was perfect last week, but the Saints offer a similar chance for Douglas to make an impact again this week. Even if Jones makes it back on the field, Douglas is still going to be involved. If Jones sits again, then Douglas could help win the week for you.
Allen Hurns, JCK - Hurns continues to improve and is ready to put a potential exclamation point on a solid fantasy season against the Titans. Even if Blake Bortles misses the game, Hurns performed well with Chad Henne under center, giving him some nice upside in a plus matchup.
Stedman Bailey, STL - Bailey let his owners down in Week 14 against the Redskins, so it will be tough to trust him this week when the Rams take on the Giants. Despite the poor showing versus Washington, Bailey has been the steadiest of all Shaun Hill’s targets, and he should at least be a solid option at your WR3 spot.
Marquess Wilson, CHI - I was pretty high on WIlson’s potential last week, and as such came away disappointed with the results, although a late touchdown helped salvage his day. I still think he has a big game in him, but it remains to be seen if Jay Cutler is capable of bringing it out of him this year.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera was my top option last week and I am sticking with him again, even in a tough game against the BIlls. Buffalo puts a lot of pressure on the QB, which could force Derek Carr to dump it off to his TE early and often. I think Rivera is a sneaky little play this week if you are in a pinch.
Owen Daniels, BAL - If Torrey Smith is still hurting, it helps Daniels' chances of duplicating last week’s output. He is never a great bet to score, but he will continue to see targets in Gary Kubiak’s system.
Carolina Panthers - The Panthers defense has been rounding into shape as the season comes to a close and now gets to face Johnny Manziel and the Browns, coming off their flop against the Bengals last week. I do think Manziel will play better this week, but the sacks and turnovers should still be there for the Panthers.
KICKERShayne Graham, NO - I like dome kickers for my final game of the season if I don’t love my current starter. Drew Brees had the offense humming against the Bears and should keep things rolling against the Falcons.
If you are still reading the Waiver Wire Report intently here in Week 15, it means that you are still alive in the playoffs and heading into your all important matchups that will determine if you play for all the marbles next week. Hopefully, you have avoided late injuries to your core performers and instead of scrambling for replacements this week, you can instead focus on building up depth behind your stud running backs (ie - handcuffs) and getting some solid options at DST for the next two weeks. There are some players on the list this week that could make some noise the next two weeks, but if you don't see yourself starting them, you might be better served by locking up the top handcuffs and carrying two defenses if you need to play the matchup game. Good Luck to everyone in the playoff hunt this week.
Johnny Manziel, CLE - I went out on a limb last week by predicting the Browns would make the switch to Manziel last week after Brian Hoyer’s shaky performance in a loss against the Bills. Coach Mike Pettine stuck with Hoyer and the decision blew up in his face in a game the Browns should have won against the Colts. The defense was brilliant, but their quarterback play from Hoyer was terrible, and the Browns lost to the Colts on a late touchdown. Now Pettine has no choice but to make the switch with the playoffs in the balance, but the truth is they flushed their best chance down the drain last week. It was the wrong call by a rookie coach, and now he and the team will need some help to squeak into the playoffs. At least we finally get to see Manziel on the field instead of the stale performances of Hoyer, who has seen his dreams of a big contract this offseason evaporate the last four weeks with three losses and a win against the Falcons that Hoyer pulled out of fire after playing terrible. Okay, enough of this Browns fan’s venting (can you tell I am extremely bummed that Hoyer played last week?), if you need QB help for the remainder of the season, Johnny Football is worth investing in, since he can add value with his legs and will have a chance to work with short fields if the Browns defense can continue it's recent strong play.
Joe Flacco, BAL - Flacco has been putting up very solid numbers the last few weeks and even chipped in a rushing touchdown last week. He gets a tasty matchup with the Jaguars this week, which gives him a chance to be a difference-maker. If your playoff opponents have been streaming QB’s, then they will have their sights set on the Ravens general, so don’t be afraid to block their move if you have the flexibility.
Jake Locker, TEN - Zach Mettenberger is out for the season with a shoulder injury, which puts Locker back under center for the remainder of the season. The upside for Locker this week resides solely in the fact that he is facing the pitiful Jets defense. The downside is Locker hasn’t been very good when he has been healthy and is missing his top two wideouts Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright. He is a risky start, but could pay some dividends as a longshot in certain formats or daily games.
Alex Smith is very hard to trust in your lineup, even with what looks like a plus matchup against the Raiders. Shaun Hill had a nice game against the Redskins but will have a tougher go of it this week versus the Cardinals. Nick Foles will get his broken collarbone checked out this week and could be back in the mix for Week 16. If Mark Sanchez flops against Dallas, there is a chance Foles can get his job back when healthy. Derek Carr raised some eyebrows with his three-touchdown day against the Niners, but he has a tough go of it this week at Kansas City. Cam Newton’s injury puts Derek Anderson under center for the Panthers and lowers the value of all their skill players.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR - Well, so that was the Stewart we have all been waiting for since he was drafted seven years ago. Simply put, he looked great, running with speed and power, even breaking a long 69-yard scoring dash. The only downside for Stewart is Cam Newton’s injury taking a little air out of the Panthers attack and the chance that DeAngelo Williams might return and steal carries from Stewart. It wouldn’t make any sense to me for the team to force Williams back into the mix, but they are hinting that they will. The matchup with Tampa Bay sets Stewart up as a solid RB2 this week, but there is a little more risk than there was yesterday.
James Starks, GB - Eddie Lacy was removed at the end of last week’s contest with a bruised hip, which allowed Starks to get in his heaviest workload in weeks, as he took over Lacy’s role of churning out yards as the Packers ate up the clock to finish out the game. Lacy likely could have toughed it out if needed, but this was a wakeup call for a running back that has had his share of injuries. The Packers know they need to keep Lacy healthy for a long run in the playoffs, so that could help get Starks more work this week, giving him some flex appeal. Lacy owners will want to scoop him up to ensure they have protection against Lacy aggravating his hip this week, opening the door for Starks to start in the all important Week 16.
Kerwynn Williams, ARZ - Williams will be a hot pickup this week after coming out of nowhere to drop 100 yards on the ground against the Chiefs last week. Here is the reason I am going to tell you to pass on Williams this week and let someone else chase his big game. First, Stephan Taylor will still be the starter and the team will still ride the hot hand. The problem is the Cardinals face the Rams and the Seahawks the next two weeks. This is not the place to look for playoff salvation. Rather, let your opponent make this poor selection.
Knile Davis, KC - Jamaal Charles briefly left the field last week and his owners all gave a collective gasp. Half of those likely came from people who didn’t have Davis locked up on their roster. It’s Week 15 and the time for getting cute is over now. If you have stud running backs like Charles in your lineup, make sure to get their handcuffs rostered pronto. This goes for the other top backups who could become studs if the guy in front of them goes down like the aforementioned Starks, Joseph Randle, Chris Polk, Alfred Blue, Ka’Deem Carey, etc.
Marcel Reece has had back-to-back nice weeks catching passes out of the backfield and Derek Carr will continue to look his way, giving him some appeal in PPR leagues. Terrance West has been able to hang onto his piece of the running game pie in Cleveland and has some upside since the Browns figure to go with a very run-heavy attack in Manziel’s first start against the Bengals. Matt Asiata is back in the driver’s seat for the Vikings. He is still just a middling talent, but he has shown that he can score from short yardage if he gets the chance. If you are desperate, he is worth a bid this week. C.J. Spiller could be back in action for Week 16. He is worth a flier in deep leagues, but he is a longshot to make an impact again this year.
Donte Moncrief, IND - We had Moncrief on the list last week and highlighted the fact that he was a player to own because he could explode if he were to get starter’s snaps were Reggie Wayne to go down with an injury. The former All-Pro had a game to forget against the Browns with numerous drops, and now he could get shut down with a torn triceps muscle. Moncrief is now slated to be the starter opposite T.Y. Hilton and looks like no worse than a WR3 the rest of the way in Andrew Luck’s arial show.
Charles Johnson, MIN - Johnson had his best game of the season last week against the Jets, topping 100 yards and scoring his second touchdown in three weeks. We had him on the list in Week 13 and should have listed him again last week due to the matchup. His big week will put him on lists for this week, but the Lions defense isn’t a pushover like the Jets, so temper your expectations. Still, as the only viable downfield threat for Teddy Bridgewater, he is the Vikings wideout to own right now.
Marquess Wilson, CHI - Wilson was one of my favorite sleepers heading into the season and I wrote about him in my preseason article as a player to watch for the Bears. Unfortunately, he got injured and missed the first ten games of the season. He has been active the last few weeks but has seen little action behind the other options at Jay Cutler’s disposal. Brandon Marshall is done for the season, which presents Wilson with the opportunity to be a surprise star in the fantasy playoffs. The 6’4” Wilson has a chance to pay immediate dividends in this offense, especially against a Saints team that is giving up tons of yards through the air. It doesn’t hurt that Alshon Jeffrey is going to be getting all the attention across the field. Wilson is a sneaky good pickup that could pay off big time for anyone willing to take the risk this week.
Harry Douglas, ATL - Douglas’ prospects for success this week are directly tied to the health of Julio Jones. Jones came out of last week’s game with a hip injury and if he is unable to go this week, Douglas has shown he is more than capable of stepping in and producing quality stats. A matchup with the Steelers only makes things more enticing if he were to get the start. Monitor Jones’ statuas, but if you own him, you could do worse than just picking up Douglas as insurance.
Marqise Lee is the Jaguars' top option right now, giving him some value in deeper formats. Eric Decker has been tough to start for weeks, but Percy Harvin’s injury gives him some shine for the rest of the season. Stedman Bailey came up small in a plus matchup with the Skins last week but remains the best bet of all the Rams WR’s to pin your hopes on. Chris Hogan is seeing enough targets to be a PPR-flex option, especially against the Packers, who will force Kyle Orton to throw early and often.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera has been a favorite of the Report as the season has worn on, thanks to his obvious chemistry with Derek Carr. He had his best game of the season last week, topping 100 yards for the first time, and scored his fourth touchdown on the year. If you are searching for help at TE and need to take a shot, then Rivera at least figures to get his usual 6-9 targets moving forward with a chance to give you a solid effort.
Jared Cook, STL - Cook is coming off his best game of the season as well, a two-touchdown effort that will get him picked up by TE starved teams this week. He is a frustrating player to trust, but with the state of the position, you may have no other option. You can buoy your confidence (or lack of it) with the fact that he has played well against the Cardinals throughout his career.
Scott Chandler showed that he can still catch the ball if he is called upon, and it will be all hands on deck this week against the Packers. Owen Daniels hasn’t done much for weeks now, but a matchup against the Jags could be the tonic he has been looking for.
New York Giants - The Giants played their best game in weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They get to face a Washington team that is in worse shape than they are and could see RGIII back under center this week. I like the G-men to come up big again this week.
KICKERMatt Prater, DET - Prater finally is starting to look at home in a Lions uniform and gets a game at home against the Vikings this week.
We have made it to Week 13, which for most of you means the final week of the fantasy season and hopefully the beginning of a long and fruitful playoff run for your various teams. This week brings a host of games on Thanksgiving, so plan accordingly. It also is the time of the season when you want to gear your roster with an eye to the playoffs. That means making room for neccessary handcuffs and perhaps even grabbing an extra defense if you want to play matchups in the playoffs.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton predictably bounced back against the Jets last week, and he should be able to keep the momentum going this week against a Browns defense that tends to play better at home than on the road. The running game is still stalling a bit, which puts the ball firmly in the veteran’s hands. He has been doing a great job of avoiding turnovers and has a pretty decent schedule during the fantasy playoffs, which makes him a nice QB2 target for leagues that start two quarterbacks.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - Hoyer had possibly his worst game of the season last week against the Falcons, and needed an electric final game-winning drive to perhaps save his job for another week. The Cleveland native made a host of bad throws on Sunday, leading to three interceptions, including one on first-and-goal on the six-yard line that should have cost the Browns the ballgame. But Hoyer survived to start another week and will have a full week of practice to get on the same page with Josh Gordon and hopefully get TE Jordan Cameron back as well. The Browns running game is rolling, which should open up the the rest of the field and give Hoyer a good chance to put up solid numbers this week.
Colt McCoy, WAS - The word is that the Redskins will announce today that McCoy will get the start this week with Robert Griffin III headed to the bench. It is a stunning turn of events and kind of sad to see Griffin look as lost as he has on the field lately. He obviously needs a change of scenery and he very well could have played his last game in a Washington uniform. McCoy looked very good in his one start, a thrilling victory against the Cowboys, and he can’t play any worse than Griffin has of late. He won’t be a season-saver in redraft leagues, but those in two quarterback leagues can plug him in with a reasonable expectation of some solid production.
Zach Mettenberger has two touchdown passes in three of his last four starts and has some soft matchups through the fantasy playoffs. Ryan Mallett’s season-ending injury likely puts Ryan Fitzpatrick back under center this week. Teddy Bridgewater looked better last week and has a chance to make some noise against the Jets. Drew Stanton struggled against the Seahawks but should have an easier time of it against the Falcons this week.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - If you have been reading this column all year, you know that I have been clamoring for the Browns to put the ball in Crowell’s hands for weeks now. It finally occurred last week, and the undrafted rookie turned in a nifty performance, capped off by an electric 26-yard touchdown where he broke multiple tackles on his way to the score. He is easily more explosive than Terrance West and has the edge when it comes to scoring touchdowns, which gives him much more upside. He could have had three or more touchdowns last week if Kyle Shanahan had just called his number on first down near the goal-line last week instead of calling a pass play that almost cost them the game. He’s an ideal flex play the rest of the way, if you have the luxury of using him there, since he is still going to share carries with West.
Latavius Murray, OAK - We were somewhat tepid in our praise of Murray last week, mainly because we didn’t have faith that the Raiders would do the right thing and give the younger Murray a legitimate shot over the tired veterans on the team. They proved me wrong, although a lot of it had to do with the fact that Murray ran over people on his way to 112 yards and two touchdowns. We were correct to mention last week that he was a cheap option with plenty of upside, and now, barring any late injuries, he could be the last big running back to emerge before the fantasy playoffs start. There are some red flags for Murray, the first being that he suffered a concussion last week. The second is that the Raiders still stink and the schedule includes some very tough matchups for the young running back. Still, he has to be owned, and is worth a significant bid, even if it means just keeping him off your opponents' rosters.
Daniel Herron, IND - We should have known that Trent Richardson wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Ahmad Bradshaw’s injury to take hold of feature back duties for the rest of the season. We figured Herron would get his share of work last week, but he drew the start and it looks like he will have a chance make this an even split in the Colts backfield. That is enough for him to be the weekly flex start that Bradshaw was for most of the season.
LeGarrette Blount, NE - You gotta love the genius, who broke the hearts of Jonas Gray owners last week by benching the waiver wire darling for missing a team meeting. It opened the door for the just signed Blount to take over as the power back en route to two touchdowns and at least a piece of the running back pie going forward. As I said last week, it is a fool’s errand to try and predict what Belichick will do with his running backs in any given week, but the Packers can be run on, so whoever gets the early down work could be in for a nice day. He is worth rostering just in case Belichick decides he needs to make the rookie suffer for at least another week.
Pierre Thomas, NO - Thomas made it back on the field last week and immediately reclaimed his role as the primary pass-catching back in the Saints offense. He can once again be trusted as a solid source of points for PPR owners. The Saints have a very pass-freindly schedule down the stretch, so Thomas has a nice floor going forward.
Andre Williams was still involved last week with Rashad Jennings back. He should hang onto enough carries and goal-line work to be a solid flex-play. Doug Martin made it back onto the field and out-touched Charles Sims last week. Brandon Oliver got a little work after Ryan Mathews' injury, meaning don’t go dropping him just yet since Mathews is always an injury waiting to happen. Carlos Hyde, Knile Davis, Joseph Randle, James Starks, KaDeem Carey and Juwan Thompson are all handcuffs behind workhorse backs that should be owned as we enter the fantasy playoffs.
Kenny Stills, NO - Stills retains the top slot for another week after a predictable bump in usage last week in the wake of Brandin Cooks' injury. The Saints schedule the rest of the way sets up Stills for success in the fantasy playoffs and the bump in usage makes him a much less risky start than he was with Cooks in the lineup. He has a solid floor now with big upside if he and Drew Brees start connecting on some long balls.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has been a mainstay of this column lately and just keeps on producing for Ryan Tannehill. He scored another two touchdowns last week and has gotten more targets (32) than any Dolphins wideout over the last four weeks. He would be my top choice this week for PPR owners and is a solid WR3 in all leagues this week against the lowly Jets.
John Brown, ARZ - Brown was the best player on the field for the Cards last week against the Seahawks, and he flashed some of his playmaking ability filling in for the injured Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is still hurting and the Falcons have one of the worst secondaries in the league this year. Drew Stanton keeps his ceiling low, but Brown is a worthy plug-in for Fitzgerald owners and anyone looking for a boost at the WR3 spot.
Andrew Hawkins, CLE - Josh Gordon’s return didn’t hurt Hawkins' numbers last week, as the speedy receiver gained 90 yards for the third time this year. Gordon allowed him to work in single coverage over the middle and he gained much of his yardage after the catch. Brian Hoyer trusts him and he will continue to be a key part of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, especially when they choose to go up-tempo. His lack of scoring keeps him mainly a PPR asset.
Charles Johnson, MIN - Johnson is getting starter's snaps and targets and looks like the Vikings wide receiver to own right now. Any Vikings wide receiver is kind of a desperation play with Teddy Bridgewater under center, but this week’s tilt at home against the Panthers gives him another chance to build on his mini-breakout.
Donte Moncrief is working his way up the pecking order for the Colts. He is better than Hakeem Nicks and gaining on Reggie Wayne. He is worth finding a spot on your roster in deep leagues, just in case he “Lucks” into a starting role during the fantasy playoffs. Kenny Britt’s day would have been better were it not for a penalty that canceled out a touchdown grab. Andre Holmes could be re-emerging in time for the fantasy playoffs. He showed what he can do if he gets the targets. Robert Woods had a big game last week and could benefit from Joe Haden blanketing Sammy Watkins all day. Justin Hunter scored on a fluky deflected pass, so don’t go forcing him into your lineup this week.
Jordan Cameron, CLE - He is likely stashed away in most deeper leagues, but he is widely available in shallower formats after missing the last four weeks due to a concussion. He will return to the field this week, giving the Browns their full compliment of weapons on offense for the first time all season. I am not sure I would trust him this week against the Bills, but Gordon’s presence opens up everything for the other playmakers in this offense and that includes Cameron.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - Rudolph finally made an impact last week, catching three passes for 50 yards. He should benefit from the matchup at home against the Panthers and is as good a bet as any Viking receiver to find the end zone this week. With the way the tight end position has played out this year, Rudolph is a borderline TE1 the rest of the way, with upside if Bridgewater finally gains some confidence down the stretch.
Tim Wright, NE - Wright was featured last week more than he has been in weeks, as the Patriots employed the two-TE offense against the Lions stout run defense. It resulted in five catches and two touchdowns. I doubt he gets used that much against the Packers this week, but he is still a great hedge against a Rob Gronkowski injury and a sneaky play any time the Patriots face a team that can stop the run.
Brent Celek could see an increase in work this week if Zach Ertz is limited in any way. Vernon Davis may be getting healthier in time for the fantasy playoffs. He has been one of many frustrating players at the position this season, but perhaps last week is a sign that he has at least one big game in him down the line. Dion Sims filled in for the injured Charles Clay and could have some streaming value if Clay can’t make it back for Monday Night.
St. Louis Rams - The Rams defense has been racking up sacks lately and playing very well against highly productive offenses. This week, they get the Raiders at home which makes them a streamer's delight.
New York Giants - The Giants get to play Jacksonville this week, which has been the streamer’s team to pick on all year. If you have been going to this well repeatedly, I see no reason to stop now.
KICKERBlair Walsh, MIN - Walsh has a big leg that can deliver from 50 yards and a matchup against the Panthers that could lead to multiple attempts from distance.
We have finally reached Week 14, which for most leagues means the beginning of the fantasy playoffs. It’s time to play to win this week and also try to set your team up for the next two weeks where possible. Take weather into account, grab your handcuffs if you haven’t already and be on the lookout for any breakout talents that can step in and help your fantasy team achieve the ultimate goal. There are a ton of new big names on the wire this week, outside of a cocky quarterback from Texas, as many of the best options were guys we mentioned in previous weeks.
Johnny Manziel, CLE - I will admit that I didn’t think we would have to wait until Week 13 to see Manziel in his first significant action of the season. The Browns were winning with local bou Brian Hoyer which kept the former Heisman trophy winner plastered to the bench. After Hoyer threw his sixth interception in three weeks and continued to fail to get the Browns into the endzone, coach Mike Pettine finally made the switch to Manziel. At this point, the starter for this week hasn’t been named (and won’t be until Wednesday), but I just don’t see how the Browns can go back to Hoyer at this point. Manziel immediately flashed more playmaking ability in his first drive than Hoyer has all year, and capped off a nifty 80-yard drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. His passes had more zip on them and his ability to extend plays with his legs will be necessary with the Browns offensive line woes. Manziel has plenty of upside due to his running ability, so pick him up if you need a quarterback or want to keep him off your competitors' teams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, HOU - Fitzpatrick made his first start since getting benched for Ryan Mallett a memorable one, tossing six touchdowns against the Titans. If you scooped him up and plugged him into your lineup in a two-quarterback league, you are surely smiling today. You also will be hard pressed to take him out with the Jaguars on tap this week.
Colt McCoy, WAS - McCoy’s final statline looked better than he did in the 49-27 loss to the Colts, but with 392 yards and three touchdowns on the day, he definitely did enough to hang onto the starting job heading into this week’s game against St. Louis. The Rams can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, and McCoy had ball control issues last week, but he could be the best option available in really deep leagues for streaming purposes this week.
Shaun Hill has a nice connection going with Stedman Bailey and a decent matchup against the Redskins this week. Teddy Bridgewater gets the Jets at home which gives him some appeal in dual-QB formats. Blake Bortles finally got a signature win, leading the Jaguars to the big comeback over the Giants. He has a decent fantasy playoff schedule with home games against the Texans this week and Titans in Week 16. Drew Stanton didn’t do much against the Falcons, so his owners shouldn’t feel very secure with the Chiefs defense coming to town.
Dan Herron, IND - With no new running backs breaking through last week, Herron gets a bump up the list this week as a potential flex-starter for the fantasy playoffs. He is the only Colts back you want to own and has stepped right into the Ahmad Bradshaw role in the offense. The next step for him is to steal even more work from the ineffective Trent Richardson. There is upside for the guy they call “Boom” in this explosive offense starting this week against a Browns team that has had trouble stopping the run all year long.
LeGarrette Blount, NE - Blount seemed to further take command of the “power-back” role in the Patriots offense, rushing for 58 yards on ten carries. The other running back carries broke down as follows: Shane Vereen (3), Brandon Bolden (3) and Jonas Gray (1). Bolden vultured the lone touchdown run on the day, but I expect Blount to be the best bet to score this week. Jonas Gray is likely worth dropping if you need the roster spot, but it is never easy to predict what Bill Belichick will do with his running backs any given week. With some tough run defenses ahead for the fantasy playoffs, it will be hard to trust Blount or any Patriots running back in the fantasy playoffs.
Doug Martin, TB - Martin is back as the Bucs lead rusher, and he found the endzone last week for only the second time all year. He is worth grabbing for depth heading into the playoffs, but you will not want to force him into the lineup this week against the stout Detroit Lions rush defense. Week 15 against the Panthers offers a better chance to throw him in your lineup again. PPR-owners will want to look elsewhere, since he is basically invisible in the passing game with the emergence of Charles Sims as the pass-catching back.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR - Stewart was the lone bright spot for the Panthers last week, rushing for a season-high 85 yards on 12 carries. DeAngelo Williams also apparently suffered a broken finger, which could keep him out of action this week against the Saints. It boosts Stewart's value and at least makes him worth adding to your fantasy bench heading into the playoffs.
Matt Asiata, MIN - If Jerick McKinnon can’t go this week, that will leave Asiata as the lead back. Asiata isn’t that talented, but he has a nose for the endzone and will get all of the goal line work, even once McKinnon makes it back. It gives him some value as an emergency play for RB-needy teams entering the fantasy playoffs.
Marion Grice could get the start for Arizona if Andre Ellington can’t go due to the hip pointer suffered last week. He is a middling talent and won’t get the goal line carries, but he is as close as you might get to a plug-n-play option in deep leagues this week. Andre Williams could get a bump in value this week if Rashad Jennings' ankle injury sidelines him. He hasn’t performed that well this season, but neither has the Titans defense. We listed a bunch of the top handcuffs in last week’s column. Rather than list them again, we’ll just repeat the mantra that if you are in the playoffs, handcuff your stud running back appropriately.
Kenny Stills, NO - Don’t look now, but Stills may be emerging as the Saints top WR, just in time for the fantasy playoffs. He has been our top add for the last two weeks, ever since Brandin Cooks went down with an injury. After hauling in five of Drew Brees’ passes for 162 yards and a long touchdown, he should be picked up everywhere and anywhere he is still available thanks to a playoff schedule that will continue to provide him with opportunities to make plays. It doesn’t hurt when the other team floods extra attention towards Jimmy Graham, daring Brees to beat them with someone else. At this point, that guy looks like Stills. Stills could be a player that puts your team over the top in the fantasy playoffs, so hopefully you grabbed him two weeks ago when we first advised you to.
Davante Adams, GB - Adams finally had a breakout game, catching six balls for 121 yards. He benefitted from the excellent play of the Patriots cornerbacks on Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, so you shouldn’t expect a repeat this week against the Falcons secondary. That said, Aaron Rodgers does trust him enough to throw him the ball when he needs to, and that has value. He is worth a roster spot as depth, and even as a potential hedge against an injury to either Cobb or Nelson down the stretch.
Stedman Bailey, STL - We were wrong to completely ignore Bailey last week and admit that we thought his Week 12 performance was a one week mirage. But after he torched the Raiders for 100 yards on five catches, all before halftime, we have to at least acknowledge that he looks like an asset for fantasy owners for the next few weeks. Due to his lack of size (5’10", 193), he is never going to be a big red zone target, but the Rams are getting creative with him, and getting the ball into his hands in space where he can do some damage. It is kind of the role that Tavon Austin was supposed to fill when the team drafted him. PPR owners could do worse than to take a chance on Bailey against the Washington secondary this week.
Donte Moncrief, IND - It took three weeks since his last big game, but Moncrief finally put the last nails into Hakeem Nicks’ role as the number three WR in the Colts offense. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but his big 132-yard, two touchdown day shows the upside for a player with Moncrief’s skills in this offense. He is a boom-or-bust player as long as he isn’t seeing starter’s snaps, but if Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton were to get hurt, then Moncrief could be fantasy gold for the team that has him on their roster.
Robert Woods had another solid outing, and Kyle Orton seems to like throwing the ball to him, especially on third down. With a fantasy schedule that includes games against Denver, Green Bay and finally Oakland, there will be plenty of opportunities for Woods to help fantasy teams over the next three weeks. Harry Douglas showed us last year that he can be productive when forced into a starting role, which he will fill as long as Roddy White is sidelined. Marqise Lee is the last of the rookie class of wideouts waiting to make a big impact this season. He finally perked up fantasy owners' interest with his 75-yard, one-touchdown performance last week.
Jordan Reed, WAS - Reed has had a frustrating season as one of many top TE’s to spend more time on the trainer’s table than on the field. He made it back on the field last week and showed what he can do when his legs are healthy. He also now has a quarterback in Colt McCoy who is looking to get the ball in his hands. If he can stay on the field, he has a trio of nice matchups through the fantasy playoffs and can easily continue to put up TE1 numbers the rest of the way.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - Rudolph hasn’t come back that strongly from injury, but he did finally find the endzone last week. This week, he gets a Jets defense that gives up a ton of points to opposing tight ends, so if you have been waiting for the chance to use him, this might be as good as it gets for the Vikings red zone threat.
Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings get the Jets at home this week, which should mean a low scoring affair and some turnovers if the Jets decide to actually try and throw the ball.
Green Bay Packers - Once upon a time, you would never have thought to target the Falcons offense, especially in a fantasy playoff week. But the Falcons offense slows down outside of the dome, and this is a Packers defense that can take advantage of the Falcons crumbling offensive line in the icy cold of Lambeau.
Connor Barth, DEN - Barth came off the scrap heap to go 5-for-5 in his first game as a Bronco. Playing in this offense always gives the kicker a nice solid floor to stand on, with obvious upside anytime Peyton Manning struggles a bit as he did last week. The Bills defense can stall some drives, so Barth could be in for another busy week.
We have finally made it to the last of the bye weeks and playoff pictures should be coming into focus. This week also could be the time the trade deadline is slated to arrive. If you are still fighting for a playoff spot, you have some options to turn to thanks to a spate of injuries to key performers. If you have locked up a playoff spot, now is the time to get your house in order and perhaps play some defense on the waiver wire, keeping hot pickups off your competitor's rosters. Good luck this week and keep churning toward the finish line!
Bye Weeks: Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers
Josh McCown, TB - We had McCown on the list last week and he delivered his second consecutive solid performance, with 288 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He is thriving throwing the ball to Mike Evans and gets to face the Bears in his return to Chicago, where he earned his big free agent contract last year. The numbers he is putting up look better than he has played, truth be told, but the play of Evans will continue to allow him to put up points, especially in favorable matchups like this week.
Kyle Orton, BUF - It’s the time of year where we will have a lot of repeat customers on the report, since we mainly cover those players widely available in most leagues. Orton definitely qualifies, especially coming off last week’s down performance against the Dolphins. It came on a short week, with Sammy Watkins still at less than 100 percent, and we warned last week that you would want to look to this week’s matchup against the Jets at home to stream in the Bills quarterback.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - Hoyer and the Browns get Josh Gordon back this week, which can only help the offensive gameplan. While the rest of the Browns receivers have done an admirable job filling in, there simply isn’t anyone else on the roster that can bring the skill set that Gordon does to the field. We haven’t seen Hoyer work in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with a viable deep threat this year. It at least has the arrow pointing up with a defense that can’t stop the run and a schedule that isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of defenses on tap.
Drew Stanton looked pretty good last week but still has things to work on to reach his full potential in this offense. The Cards are on the road against the Seahawks, which could mean a step back for Stanton this week. Ryan Mallett was very efficient against the Browns and wasn’t forced to do too much heavy lifting with the running game humming. He has a big arm and solid receivers to work with, so there is some upside as a QB2 here. Shaun Hill did enough last week to hang onto the starting job for the time being. He has value in deeper leagues where any QB starting has value.
Tre Mason, STL - Mason has kind of plodded along through a tough string of games before finally topping 100 yards for the first time all year against the Broncos last week. He has clearly established himself as the lead dog for the Rams, and as last week demonstrates, will be most effective when the Rams defense can dominate and allow the team to play with a lead. The schedule is easing up at the right time for Mason to make some noise down the stretch, especially against the Giants in Week 16. If he isn’t available on your waiver wire, he makes a nice trade candidate.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - We have been saying since the beginning of the season that Crowell was the most talented back on Mike Pettine’s roster. I think the coaches are finally coming around to the same decision as Crowell got the bulk of the carries last week, even after he fumbled early in the game. The Browns also released free agent Ben Tate, which leaves Crowell and Terrance West to handle the backfield duties going forward. West will have his moments, and the Browns will play the hot hand at times, but Crowell is the more complete back, and he will get the bulk of the goal-line work. If you have been patiently hanging onto him, you can finally run him out there as a flex with some confidence. Josh Gordon’s return should help the running game as opposing safeties can’t crowd the box against the Brownies anymore.
Jonas Gray, NE - The hulking Patriots back had a monster day against the Colts, rumbling for 200 yards and four touchdowns last week. It was the biggest day of any running back all year, and won anyone sage enough to have started him their week. He obviously is about to get picked up in all leagues this week, and justifiably, but as anyone who has ever lived and died with the Patriots running game knows, predicting what Bill Belichick will do in a given week is a fool’s errand. There will be weeks when the Pats want to pound the ball on the ground to slow a high octane offense down. That could mean some more good weeks ahead for Gray, such as Week 13 against Green Bay. This week against the Lions doesn’t look quite as good and the Pats face two solid run defenses (MIA, NYJ) in the fantasy playoffs. He should be owned, he can be started, but be sure to evaluate the matchups going forward.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims finally emerged as the Bucs top runner last week, earning more touches than Bobby Rainey, who started. The team will continue to want to get Sims work so they can evaluate him with an eye to next year. He should continue to lead the team in touches going forward, which could at least make him a viable flex candidate. He has more value in PPR leagues, since he can catch passes out of the backfield. The biggest problem for Sims’ outlook is that his team is pretty bad, falls behind early and abandons the running game. You still want to add a guy like Sims since he could really emerge over the next few weeks, and potentially pop off a big game during the fantasy playoffs.
Latavius Murray, OAK - Murray finally got some work last week and showed some flashes in limited action. The Raiders season is in the toilet, and they should give the younger players on the roster a chance to perform. Darren McFadden looks just about finished, but we have no guarantees that Murray will get more work than the veteran, even with the season in the toilet. There is some upside here, since Murray is a big back who can do damage in the open field. He’ll come cheaper than the others on this list and could continue to emerge down the stretch for the worst team in the league.
Dan Herron will take over as the new number two back in Indianapolis with Ahmad Bradshaw landing on I.R. yesterday. He is not a special talent, but neither is Trent Richardson. Herron figures to get 8-10 touches a week, which makes him a depth selection. Juwan Thompson is now the number two back in Denver with Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball sidelined again. It at the very least makes him a viable lottery ticket in all formats. Joseph Randle, Knile Davis, James Starks and Alfred Blue are just a few of the better handcuffs who should be locked up by teams owning their lead backs heading into the playoffs.
Kenny Stills, NO - Brandin Cooks’ injury opens the door for Stills to finally make a biger impact in the Saints passing game as the season comes to a close. He will still be a boom or bust player, but at least he will see an uptick in targets as well as the types of routes the team lets him run. It doesn’t hurt that the schedule is pretty favorable for the Saints the rest of the way.
John Brown, ARI - Brown has had an impressive season as the No. 3 wideout for the Cardinals. Now Larry Fitzgerald has a sprained knee, which will give Brown more opportunities to bust a big play, and he has shown some nice chemistry with Drew Stanton under center. If you were relying on Fitzgerald, Brown should be at the top of your wish list.
Malcom Floyd, SD - The veteran isn’t exciting, but he has been very consistent this year and has been Philip Rivers' most reliable target for weeks. If you like to play it safe with your WR3 or flex starter, then Floyd is worth a look this week against the Rams.
Cody Latimer, DEN - I have been saying the Broncos should start giving Latimer a look as the team gears up for the playoffs and now the concussion suffered by Emmanuel Sanders may finally make it necessary. He has more talent and upside than either Wes Welker or Andre Caldwell at this point, so hopefully last week’s defeat will convince John Fox to bring his best players to the field this week. I like Latimer as a stash in deep leagues, since Julius Thomas and Sanders are both banged up. It could lead to the talented rookie getting some work in the fantasy playoffs for an elite passing offense.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has really settled into his role in the Miami offense and as a mainstay of the waiver wire report. He doesn’t run many deep routes, so he is best utilized in PPR leagues. He is seeing plenty of targets and has Ryan Tannehill’s eye in the red zone of late.
Allen Hurns will take over as the starter opposite Cecil Shorts in the wake of Allen Robinson’s injury. He has had some big weeks and will be getting regular snaps, so he is worth adding for depth most places. Charles Johnson should finally draw a start this week for the Vikings and will look to use his size to make some plays for Teddy Bridgewater. Taylor Gabriel has been a really nice story for the Browns and has made some big plays for the team of late. His future is cloudy with Josh Gordon set to return. Chris Hogan has taken advantage of Sammy Watkins' injury to carve out a role in the offense. The Bills are throwing the ball a lot, so Hogan has some PPR appeal going forward.
Coby Fleener, IND - Fleener took advantage of the ankle injury to Dwayne Allen to the tune of seven catches for 144 yards. Allen is day-to-day but could sit out a tasty matchup against the Jaguars this week. With Ahmad Bradshaw also out of action, it sets up Fleener for another busy day catching passes from his old Stanford buddy Andrew Luck. Fleener is not a great player, but Luck is. Things are breaking nicely for Fleener to be a difference maker for at least the next two weeks and perhaps longer if Allen’s injury is worse than reported.
Niles Paul, WAS - Jordan Reed came out of last week’s game with another hamstring injury, which is worrisome considering his last one cost him four games earlier this season. Paul would be the next man up for both the team and Reed’s fantasy owners.
Jacob Tamme, DEN - Julius Thomas suffered a sprained ankle last week but appears to have avoided the high-ankle variety. He is currently listed as day-to-day, but his owners might want to err on the side of caution and grab Tamme as some injury insurance.
Mychal Rivera had a down week after scoring in two straight games but has been one of the lone bright spots for the Raiders this season. Tim Wright scored last week and could really make a lot of noise if Rob Gronkowski were to get hurt again. Jace Amaro made some noise prior to the bye and will look to build on his connection with Michael Vick this week.
Green Bay Packers - The Packers come off a dominating effort against the Eagles and now go to Minnesota to face the struggling Vikings offense and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. An encore could be in the works this week.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts draw the Jaguars this week, which puts them on the streaming radar. The Colts will be highly motivated after the big loss to the Patriots last week.
KICKERMatt Bryant, ATL - Bryant has nailed four field goals in both of his last two games. The Browns come to town this week in a contest that could feature plenty of opportunites for the Falcons placekicker to keep it rolling.