Mark Sanchez, Jets
With the Jets running game middling along, Sanchez has stepped to the forefront of the team’s offense and has provided a spark in the passing game. He seems to be meshing well with wide receiver Santonio Holmes and is on the hottest streak of his career. Over the past three games, Sanchez has thrown for 937 yards and six touchdowns while chipping in two scores on the ground. Over the next five weeks, the Jets face only one top ten passing defense, so maybe, just maybe, Sanchez will prove to be a worthy fantasy starter over that stretch.
Shaun Hill, Lions
Hill continued his run of strong performances this week, tossing for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a loss against the Cowboys. In the games that he has started and not been injured in, Hill is averaging 290 passing yards and just under two touchdowns per game. Those are starter-worthy numbers. With the Lions on a short week and Matthew Stafford not expected to play, Hill gets the start this week against the Patriots’ 30th-ranked pass defense, a unit that just gave up 396 yards and four touchdowns to Peyton Manning despite the Colts being desperately thin at wide receiver.
Eli Manning, Giants
The news for Manning and the Giants went from bad to worse this week when the team announced that wide receiver Hakeem Hicks would likely miss three weeks with compartment syndrome. Steve Smith is also out with a torn pectoral muscle, and his return has been pushed back to Week 14. With Ramses Barden and Victor Cruz on injured reserve, the Giants were forced to sign Derek Hagan off the street last week, and he became by default their third wide receiver on Monday night. He will likely now move into the starting lineup, with undrafted rookie free agent Duke Calhoun serving as the team’s third receiver. Manning wasn’t able to overcome all the wide receiver injuries in Week 11, as he passed for only 147 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions against an average Eagles secondary. The schedule is favorable with Jacksonville and Washington up next, but expecting Manning to continue as a Top 10 fantasy quarterback is foolhardy.
Vince Young, Titans
Young’s season—and quite likely his career in Tennessee—is over, courtesy of the thumb injury he suffered this week. After his brouhaha with head coach Jeff Fisher, it appears that either the coach or Young will have to go. Initial reports indicate that owner Bud Adams wants the two to resolve their differences, but look for Fisher to nix that plan and for Adams to come to his senses and pick his future Hall of Fame coach over his head case quarterback.
Mike Goodson, Panthers
In Week 10, Goodson became the first Panthers running back to top 100 yards rushing in a game this year—and he followed that up with another 100-yard performance this week against the Ravens. In two games as the Panthers starter, Goodson has amassed 264 total yards, giving Carolina little reason to hand the starting position back over to Jonathan Stewart. The schedule looks decent with three solid matchups against the Browns, Seahawks, and Cardinals. You will likely want to sit him, however, against the Falcons in Week 14 and against the Steelers in Week 16. Unless the Panthers inexplicably bench him (hey, John Fox inserted Brian St. Pierre at quarterback after signing him a week earlier), Goodson should produce down the stretch.
Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Who needs Ryan Mathews? Not the Chargers, that’s for sure. With the team expected to have a full contingent of receivers next week, San Diego seems ready to go on another late-season win streak, which likely bodes well for whoever is at running back for the Chargers. Tolbert was the guy this week against the Broncos, and he got the fourth quarter mop-up work, gaining 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and chipping in 42 yards on a pair of receptions. Expect Tolbert to be the guy from here on out, as well. The Chargers are winning, Tolbert is playing well, and with a healthy cast of receivers, there is a reduced need for big plays from the running back position.
Chris Ivory, Saints
Is Pierre Thomas ever going to return to the Saints backfield? If he does, will he get his starting job back? Here are my predictions: “Not this week” and “Likely, but there’s no guarantee.” On Sunday, Ivory torched the Seahawks for 99 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and with the Saints having a Thursday matchup on the road against Dallas, don’t expect Thomas back in the lineup just yet. While Ivory can hardly be considered an all-around threat at running back (he isn’t a good blocker and he has just one reception), all the Saints need from the position at the moment is some decent production, and he’s been supplying that.
Fred Jackson, Bills
The big man from little Coe College is Moving Up two weeks in a row. Last week it was because of an injury to C.J. Spiller and Jackson’s strong performance against the Lions. This week it’s because of his big game against the Bengals, where he had 116 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against a reasonably solid Cincinnati run defense. Week 12 doesn’t look pretty against the Steelers, but of the Bills other remaining games, only the Vikings looks like a questionable matchup for Jackson.
Maurice Morris, Lions
Watching Jahvid Best have his worst day as a pro this week against Dallas, it seems the rookie first-round pick’s toe injury is getting worse, not better. Best totaled just 15 yards on seven touches while splitting time with Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown. With Kevin Smith on injured reserve, Morris is next in line should the Lions decide to hold Best out due to the short week. Expect Detroit to finally sit Best, with Morris stepping in against a New England run defense that has been up and down in 2010.
Chris Wells, Cardinals
Only for the truly desperate. Wells got about 40 percent of the work this week and looks to finally be healthy, at least for now. The next two weeks don’t look promising with the 49ers and the Rams coming up, but Weeks 14 through 16 look like dynamite. On tap for the fantasy playoffs are the Broncos (the 29th-ranked run defense), Panthers (22nd), and Cowboys (20th).
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
There were rumblings the Giants wanted to reduce Bradshaw’s touches to lessen the amount of wear and tear on him in his first year as the starter. That reduction happened in Week 11, but it wasn’t to keep him fresh. After Bradshaw lost his fifth fumble of the season this week (he has fumbled six times), the Giants nailed him to the bench, and he ended up with just 13 touches—his fewest of the year. While he is expected to retain his starting role, look for Brandon Jacobs to see more use, at Bradshaw’s expense, in the coming weeks.
Pierre Thomas, Saints
As pondered above, will Thomas ever return from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for most of the season?
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
The concussion Stewart suffered in Week 9 may keep him out again this week, but there are no guarantees he will get his job back even if he returns. Stewart’s status in Carolina has taken a huge hit this season due to his poor play and his inability to stay healthy, and the Panthers may use the rest of the season to evaluate Goodson and Tyrell Sutton. If those two pan out, that will likely pave the way for the Panthers to trade Stewart in the offseason.
Clinton Portis, Redskins
Looks like one-and-done for Portis. The Redskins are expected to place him on injured reserve after he reinjured his groin in his return this week, after having missed five games. Washington needs more production from the running back position, and Portis looks finished. My guess is that he’s played his last game in Washington—and possibly in his career, since he doesn’t seem like a player who will accept a backup role.
Blair White, Colts
The news regarding Austin Collie’s removal from this week’s game against the Patriots is that he was taken out for “precautionary reasons”. If you buy that, I’ve got a used car or two to sell you. It defies logic that an organization with a solid history of taking care of its players would send Collie out onto the field a week after he almost certainly sustained his second concussion of the season. That means White will take over as the team’s slot receiver; and he has had decent production when given the opportunity during his rookie season. He had his best game of the season this week against the Patriots, stepping in to catch five of his seven targets for 42 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Santonio Holmes, Jets
It took a number of games for Holmes to get in sync with quarterback Mark Sanchez, but the duo have been one of the hottest quarterback–wide receiver combinations in the league over the past three weeks. Holmes has had game-winning touchdowns in each of the last two weeks and has hauled in 17 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games. He has clearly emerged as Sanchez’s go-to guy at wide receiver and rates as a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 over the balance of the season.
Nate Burleson, Lions
Burleson opened the season with a pair of bad games and suffered an injury that set him back, but since returning to the lineup, he has fulfilled his role in strong fashion. Over the past six weeks, he has hit double-digit points four times and has four touchdowns over that stretch. He has really come on over his last three games, snagging 18 passes for 257 yards and a pair of scores with a pair of 100-yard games, as well. That’s solid WR3 production, and he can likely be had for little in a trade and may even be on the waiver wire in shallow leagues.
Sidney Rice, Vikings
Rice wasn’t wildly productive in his first game of the season, catching just three passes for 56 yards and failing to find the end zone. The encouraging news is that he played in over 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, was targeted a hefty 10 times, and looked healthy. With a game under his belt and the Redskins 28th-ranked pass defense on tap this week, Rice is starter-worthy at just the right time of the season for his fantasy owners.
Pierre Garcon, Colts
More of the same from Garcon this week as he seems destined not to fulfill his immense potential in his third season in Indianapolis. Garcon is like bad pizza: you eat it because it’s there and because there’s really no such thing as bad pizza, but you don’t necessarily enjoy it. This week, Garcon caught five passes for 62 yards and no touchdowns. Here’s his season in a nutshell: one good game with 103 yards and his only touchdown of the year, four not-so-good games with 43 yards or less, and three ho-hum games with between 57 and 78 receiving yards.
Percy Harvin, Vikings
With Sidney Rice back in the lineup for his first game of the year, Harvin had just five targets, his lowest number since Week 1 when he was also thrown to just five times.
Joel Dreessen, Texans
Dreessen topped 100 receiving yards for the first time in his five-year career this week, with 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. With Owen Daniels struggling to recover from the torn ACL he suffered midway through the 2009 season (and now hobbled by a hamstring injury), Dreessen has played reasonably well when given an opportunity. Daniels is clearly the more talented of the two, but his future with the team is uncertain and his production is way off from last year. Dreessen may just finish the season as Houston’s starting tight end.
Michael Hoomanawanui, Rams
Hoomanawanui was generating quite a buzz with his play in the preseason, but he suffered an ankle injury during the Rams’ opening game and has been hobbled by back and rib injuries throughout his rookie season. This week, he put together his best game of the year, catching four of six targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. He would have had another score late in the game on a shovel pass, but it was picked off when he fell over the his own left guard. Hoomanawanui is a talented young tight end playing on a Rams team on the upswing with a solid stud-in-the-making at quarterback. Dynasty leaguers should take note.
Jimmy Graham, Saints
Another rookie tight end that is starting to produce is Graham. The team’s third-round pick had five receptions for 72 yards this week, bringing his total over the last two games to eight receptions for 121 yards and a score. There is a strong likelihood Jeremy Shockey won’t be back next year, and if that happens, Graham will move into the starting lineup for the Saints’ high-powered offense.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Gonzalez continued his string of uninspired performances this week, notching just 46 receiving yards and losing a touchdown to Justin Peelle. That’s what it’s come down to, folks. Gonzalez now has just two games of more than 46 receiving yards, which makes him useful only when he scores—and that’s only happened in two matchups this year.