Much like in the actual NFL, the fantasy football season does not necessarily come down to the highest seeded teams winning it all, rather teams that get hot when it counts. Here are some players that can help the cause in the next three weeks and weeks 14-16, when most fantasy championships are won and lost.
Peyton Manning heads this list, as he faces some of the worst defenses in the league for the rest of the season. After struggling early, Manning has clawed his way back into the top 10.
He'll be tough to grab, but if you have a player with a better current standing that faces tougher defenses down the stretch, such as Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler, or Aaron Rodgers, try to deal them in a package that also includes a receiver with a high standing in this article, but a lower standing currently, for a receiver with a higher current standing that is not listed here.
Manning faces Houston this week, followed by the league's worst pass defense in San Diego, then a Cleveland team that gave up 447 yards to Jay Cutler last Thursday, and closes out with the lowly Bengals, a Lions defense that has allowed 15 touchdown passes and a 111.3 quarterback rating, closed out against a Jaguars team that may have nothing to play for in Week 16.
Add in a struggling running game and it looks like the Colts will ride Manning's arm as far as it will take them.
Chad Pennington has been a pleasant surprise this season
Matt Ryan has a nice closing schedule and seems to get better every week. Chad Pennington has a soft schedule and, what he lacks in touchdown production, he makes up for taking care of the football and piling up yards. Jake Delhomme has a soft upcoming schedule, but draws the Giants in Week 16, when a championship could be on the line. These players should be productive and easy to trade for.
Players that still could be available on waivers that could produce in a back-up or emergency role include Tyler Thigpen and Kerry Collins, as defenses will tend to focus on the Tennessee rushing attack in the coming weeks and Collins will be called upon to come up with similar performances to his game against Chicago in Week 10.
Joseph Addai has the same easy matchups as Manning, but the running game has not been consistent enough to count on him to come through with huge yardage totals, but he will still get plenty of looks in the red zone and has greater upside in leagues that give a point per reception.
His health is a factor, though, so it would be a good idea to trade for Dominic Rhodes as a handcuff or someone to stash on your roster at a low price.
Steven Jackson is about ready to return to action and may be fleeced from an impatient and frustrated owner that expected more from him — and the same can be said about Addai. LaDainian Tomlinson has a soft schedule moving forward, playing in the soft AFC West, but has not been getting as many looks in the red zone thus far this season and seems to have lost a step. He still has value, though, so he may be available at a relative bargain, especially for a player that has a chance to hit the rookie wall, such as Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, or Matt Forte.
Brandon Jacobs is a highly underrated back and, while he plays in the tough NFC East, he seems to produce yards and touchdowns on a consistent basis. Anyone that had him during last year's stretch run realizes the value of that consistency.
Marion Barber, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ronnie Brown — who has a favorable schedule but has struggled of late in the Wildcat offense and is losing carries to Ricky Williams — are all sell-high candidates to use to move these players onto your roster.
DeAngelo Williams is starting to take advantage of his vast potential and should be less pricey than other options. The same goes for LenDale White, who the Titans will lean on as temperatures continue to drop. Ladell Betts is probably still available in most leagues and will be the featured back in Washington — a very favorable position that he took full advantage of last season — and he may see a significant number of carries if the Redskins have underestimated the severity of Clinton Portis, as knee injuries are never something to take lightly.
Provided his ankle holds up, Reggie Wayne will benefit the most from Manning's soft upcoming schedule. Anthony Gonzalez is an excellent buy-low candidate, considering the inconsistencies of Marvin Harrison and the fact that someone will need to get the yards, catches, and touchdowns from Manning's impending hot streak. Harrison could possibly be traded man-for-man for Gonzalez and that would be a very favorable deal for some lucky owner.
Randy Moss won't come cheap, but could put up some big numbers in the final weeks
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
With the questions at quarterback in Detroit, now is the time to deal Calvin Johnson for Randy Moss, Steve Smith, or Eddie Royal. These men all face easy schedules and figure to be heavily involved in the passing game for their respective teams. At some point, Randy Moss is going to start being Randy Moss again. Once the Patriots figure out that Matt Cassel can throw deep to Moss just as easily as Tom Brady did, it augers well for the veteran receiver.
Andre Johnson and Roddy White are starting to draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses and will start to slow down. Players that have disappointed in recent weeks such Brandon Marshall and Terrell Owens, or players that are in shared situations such as Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald still have production potential, but could be offloaded for more value.
Torry Holt and Donnie Avery face some horrid pass defenses in the next seven weeks and should be fairly easy to trade for. Marques Colston is returning from injury and didn't establish himself until Week 10, but he could be had on the cheap and should factor heavily in a Saints passing attack that is among the best in the league.
Mark Bradley and Bobby Wade may be available on waivers and will continue to establish themselves.
Dallas Clark will also benefit from the Colts schedule and will be targeted in all areas, especially the red zone. However, most fantasy owners know this, so the price for him may be too high. If he is available for the right price, though, he should definitely be picked up.
Jason Witten has been injured and has seen a decline in productivity with Tony Romo out, but that should change starting with Romo's return in Week 11. Tony Gonzalez still has it and may be taken from an owner that feels he is too old and in decline.
Chances are, the Colts are available in your league. If they are and you have a roster spot available, pick them up. The teams they face in the next seven games also struggle on offense and turn the ball over frequently.
The Chargers have a new defensive coordinator and may have new life. Couple that with a soft schedule — though be warned that schedule also includes the Broncos — and San Diego could be a good match-ups defense. The Redskins are finally getting healthy and tend to pile up sacks. The Seahawks, if an owner is in desperation mode, do play in the diluted NFC West, but should be avoided this week, as they play the high-flying Arizona Cardinals.