Sam Bradford, Rams
The Rams’ boy wonder had the first 300-yard game of his career this week, tossing for 308 yards and three touchdowns against Denver. The performance further solidifies his standing as the overwhelming favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award. What had to excite Bradford owners is that he produced in a road contest for the second game in a row after having three subpar road games to start his career. Over his last six games, Bradford has thrown for 1,307 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception. The Rams’ next four games feature only one opponent that Bradford owners will want to stay away from—the Saints, in Week 14.
Tom Brady, Patriots
It took a while for Brady to adjust to the Patriots offense without Randy Moss, but he seems to be peaking now. After a slow start, he lit up the Lions on Thanksgiving Day for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Sure, most of the damage came against cornerback Alphonso Smith, who was clearly overwhelmed by whichever receiver the Patriots lined up against him. Brady now has multiple touchdown passes in four straight games, totaling 11 over that stretch. A few games after the Moss trade, Brady was looking like a matchup starter, but he now looks like he could finish the season in the top five at quarterback.
Jay Cutler, Bears
Cutler had his best game of the season this week, tossing four touchdowns and gaining 247 yards through the air against the Eagles. He took advantage of an Eagles secondary absent their best player, cornerback Asante Samuel. With nine touchdown passes in his last four games, it seems that Cutler may finally be picking up the nuances of the Mike Martz offense, and just in time to propel the Bears into the playoffs and solidify himself as week-in, week-out starter for fantasy purposes.
Troy Smith, 49ers
He’s followed up a pair of solid performances with a pair of duds. Over the last two weeks, Smith has just 277 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith’s problem is that he can’t make plays in the pocket, and with the loss of Frank Gore, the entire offense is likely to suffer. When you lose your stud running back, the team’s quarterback generally gets more opportunities to produce in the passing game, but I don’t see Smith taking advantage of that. More likely, he will struggle more than he already has.
Brian Westbrook, 49ers
After getting nine touches through the 49ers’ first ten games of the season, Westbrook was persona non grata for fantasy purposes and not even worth holding on to as Frank Gore’s handcuff. That all changed in an instant when Gore suffered a hip injury that is expected to land him on injured reserve. Westbrook figures to get the nod as the team’s starting running back, with Anthony Dixon getting an increased role as a backup since Westbrook can hardly be counted on to handle the workload Gore typically carries. Still, Westbrook is more capable of taking over for Gore because of the number of catches Gore gets out of the backfield. Westbrook looked great gaining 136 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against an obviously disinterested Cardinals defense on Monday night. And only the Chargers in Week 15 represent a formidable foe over the next four weeks, so Westbrook is definitely worth grabbing if he’s on your league’s waiver wire.
Toby Gerhart, Vikings
Here’s another example of a handcuff barely worth owning suddenly getting a major uptick in fantasy value courtesy of an injury. Adrian Peterson apparently hurt not one but both ankles this week, and his availability for the upcoming game against the Bills’ 32nd-ranked run defense is in question. That makes Gerhart a potential great start this week, and AP owners need to grab him if he’s available since this one looks like it will be a game-time decision.
Julius Jones, Saints
Chris Ivory had the better fantasy stats, courtesy of his two touchdown runs, but it was Jones who had more touches this week (13 to 7). With just one reception on the season, the Saints clearly don’t trust Ivory in the passing game since he comes out in those situations, most likely due to his poor blitz recognition. Jones had a spring in his step this week, and with Pierre Thomas’ return still uncertain, he may be poised to grab a bigger piece of the workload in the Saints backfield.
Mike Tolbert, Chargers
He’s Moving Up again this week. Tolbert chalked up his second consecutive 100-yard, one-touchdown performance this week against the Colts. He has 271 total yards and a pair of touchdowns over the past two games (both Chargers wins), so there’s no reason to think Ryan Mathews will get the starting nod when he returns.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
I’m lukewarm on this one. On the one hand, Stewart had his most productive game of the season against the Browns with 12 carries for 98 yards. On the other hand, Mike Goodson still had more touches, gaining 136 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. While Goodson deserves to keep the starting job, Panthers head coach John Fox befuddled the masses by starting Brian St. Pierre at quarterback a week after signing him, so reading the tea leaves on this one is not an easy task.
Chris Johnson, Titans
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines correlation as “a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone.” You’re thinking, “Whoa, this is FF, dude. Ditch the English lecture.” Here’s the rub: Rusty Smith started the FIRST game of his career this week and Johnson had the WORST game of his career. There is a direct correlation between Smith starting and Johnson’s performance. And until Kerry Collins returns to the starting lineup, Johnson’s production is going to suffer.
Darren McFadden, Raiders
His paltry stats this week against the Dolphins marked McFadden’s second consecutive poor performance. He gained just two yards on eight carries against Miami’s middle-of-the-road defense a week after getting 14 yards on 10 carries against the Steelers. He now has gone four straight games without scoring and faces the Chargers’ stiff run defense in Week 13. Fortunately for McFadden owners, it’s the Jaguars (20th-ranked run defense), Broncos (30th), and Colts (29th) after that.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
With three touchdowns this week, Bowe continued his amazing stretch of superlative performances and now has 13 touchdowns over his past seven games. That has propelled him to the No. 1 ranking among wide receivers, a few fantasy points ahead of Brandon Lloyd. You could have made some major money in Vegas if you had bet on that prior to the season opener.
Danario Alexander, Rams
In his first game back since suffering a knee injury a month ago, Alexander was on fire against the Broncos. He didn’t seem to miss a beat in his return to action, gaining 95 yards on four receptions in limited play. Look for Alexander’s snaps to increase, provided he can stay healthy. The Rams have been spreading the ball around successfully in the passing game, but Alexander is their only wide receiver with enough size to be a consistent chain-mover on third downs. That should translate into more targets and more production in the coming weeks.
Wes Welker, Patriots
Welker was Moving Down after the Randy Moss trade, as he seemed to struggle with the added attention opposing defenses were giving him. That has changed though, with Welker gaining 237 yards on 21 receptions over the past three weeks and scoring three touchdowns over the Patriots’ last two games. While I’m not ready to anoint him WR1 material over the balance of the season, he is shaping up as a high-end WR2 from here on out.
Ben Obomanu, Seahawks
I told you last week in my “Dave’s Take” column that Obomanu was the Seahawks wide receiver to target—rather than Deon Butler—to replace Mike Williams. Sure enough, he went off for 159 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, giving him ten receptions for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the last two weeks. If he’s still available in your league, grab him pronto.
Deon Butler, Seahawks
OK, this is just bragging, but Butler gained a paltry nine yards on two receptions despite getting a healthy nine targets. Butler has some potential in dynasty leagues, but he’s not worth owning in shallow redraft formats.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys
The bad news is that he was shut out. Perhaps the good news was that when he whined about not getting enough looks, the Cowboys started force feeding him the ball. In this case, the bad outweighs the good, so Bryant is Moving Down.
Randy Moss and Nate Washington, Titans
I’ll repeat what I said last week: “Rusty Smith is at quarterback. Enough said.” Kerry Collins isn’t guaranteed to be back this week and I would bench both of these guys if he can’t go.
Brent Celek, Eagles
I’ve been hammering him all year as the biggest bust of the season at tight end, so it’s only fair that he is Moving Up this week after having his best fantasy performance of the season with three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles get the Texans’ 30th-ranked pass defense this week, followed by the Cowboys (22nd) in Week 14, so maybe it’s time to dust Celek off and give him a start.
Zach Miller, Raiders
Miller had a great start to the season, but he has fizzled out in a big way over the past four weeks. He suffered a torn plantar fascia, causing him to miss one game and gain just 23 yards on four receptions in the two weeks since. This week, he suffered a contusion to his lower right leg, meaning his prospects of turning his season back around just got dimmer.