Tim Tebow, Broncos
Tebow had 24 fantasy points in his first game as a starter, but that was padded by 78 yards and a touchdown on the ground. This week against the Texans he put up 28 points by throwing for over 300 yards and scoring through the air—and chipping in another touchdown on the ground. The naysayers will claim it doesn’t mean much because it was against Houston’s porous secondary, but the bottom line is that Tebow is averaging 26 points per game as a starter. Nobody ever said the NFL draft was an exact science, and Tebow is further proving that it’s not.
Josh Freeman, Bucs
With Tampa Bay fighting for its playoff life, Freeman came up big against the Seahawks with the best game of his two-year career in what was also his most important game to date. While Seattle’s pass defense is among the league’s worst, Freeman’s 237 passing yards and five touchdowns were still impressive. The performance entrenches Freeman as a great option in keeper leagues and as a quarterback poised to become a worthy fantasy starter in 2011.
Stephen McGee, Cowboys
Jon Kitna is questionable for Week 17 with a strained oblique, which means McGee might get the start against the Eagles. Going 11 for 17 for 111 yards and a touchdown in a little over half a game, McGee looked decent against Arizona in Week 16. He also chipped in 19 yards on four carries and almost pulled out a come-from-behind victory. McGee would be an even better option if the Eagles weren’t playing for a better playoff seed next week, but it appears as though they’ll have that incentive.
Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks
For the truly desperate, it appears that Whitehurst will start in the Seahawks’ Week 17 matchup against the Rams, in a game that will determine the winner of the NFC West. Despite incumbent starter Matt Hasselbeck having turned the ball over 13 times in the four games before Week 16, Seattle refused to insert Whitehurst into the starting lineup. However, with Hasselbeck likely out with back and hip injuries, Whitehurst will likely get the nod. He’s looked OK, but asking an inexperienced signal caller to come through in a huge game in his first career start is asking a lot.
Mark Sanchez, Jets
With a slight tear in his throwing shoulder, Sanchez is iffy at best for the Jets’ plum Week 17 matchup against the Bills. Head coach Rex Ryan has indicated that even if Sanchez plays, he may get pulled early for backup Mark Brunell. That makes him a huge risk and a player that should be started only if there aren’t any other options available.
Troy Smith, 49ers
Smith inexplicably got the nod from head coach Mike Singletary for the 49ers’ must-win road game against the Rams and rewarded his head coach with a horrendous performance. Worse yet, he argued with Singletary on the sideline after overthrowing Michael Crabtree on an interception. Smith has shown this year that he’s not yet ready to start. While Alex Smith isn’t likely to be back with the team in 2011, he will likely be under center in Week 17.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
With Mike Tolbert out for Week 17 with neck and shoulder injuries, Mathews will get the start against the Broncos. Denver’s run defense ranks 30th in the league, so Mathews should be in line for a big game to end his rather disappointing rookie season. He was solid this week against the Bengals with 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and 28 yards on three receptions. With the Broncos mailing it in, Mathews could have a huge game in Week 17.
LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
When you rush for 164 yards on just 18 carries in a key game, you’re Moving Up. Blount ran around, through, and over Seahawks defenders, displaying solid athleticism for a player his size. While he doesn’t have great speed, Blount shapes up as a solid dynasty prospect. He’s topped 100 rushing yards in each of his last two games and in three of his last four contests.
Correll Buckhalter, Broncos
Knowshon Moreno was questionable for Week 16 with injured ribs, and he left the Broncos game against the Texans for good at halftime. That allowed Buckhalter to have his best fantasy game of the year with 21 points on 92 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Chargers’ solid run defense is on tap for Week 17, but San Diego has struggled on the road and was eliminated from playoff contention this week.
Peyton Hillis, Browns
He was Moving Down last week and he’s there again courtesy of a rib injury. His Week 17 matchup is horrible with the Steelers on tap, and he’s already hit a major dry spell. With just 40 total yards this week against the Ravens, Hillis has topped 100 total yards only once in his last four games and has failed to find the end zone in each of those contests. Expect more of the same against the Steelers if he plays.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
He’s been banged up for much of the season and his injured ribs kept him from finishing the game against the Texans last week. Moreno’s the future at running back for Denver, so there’s no point in sending him out there in Week 17 with bad ribs.
Tashard Choice, Cowboys
Despite Marion Barber being a solid bet to be released in the offseason due to his high salary and declining production, he had eight carries for 58 yards and a score this week. That left Choice begging for scraps once again as he had just seven touches for 32 yards against Arizona. He was a solid flex option with Barber out, but he’s a huge risk in Week 17.
Jerome Simpson, Bengals
You could have won a lot of money in Vegas if you had bet on Simpson as the top fantasy wide receiver for Week 16. With Chad Ochocinco out of the lineup, Simpson had easily the best game of his very disappointing three-year career, catching six of seven targets for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a solid Chargers secondary. His previous career best was a two-reception, 30-yard game in Week 15. With Ochocinco not exactly in head coach Marvin Lewis’ good graces, there is a decent chance he will sit out the Bengals’ Week 17 matchup against the Ravens. That would make Simpson a decent flex option against a Baltimore secondary that has been up and down in 2010.
Andre Roberts, Cardinals
Steve Breaston started but didn’t see any targets courtesy of soreness in his knee, and that gave Roberts an opportunity. The Cardinals’ rookie third-round pick didn’t disappoint, catching five of nine targets for 110 yards and a touchdown against a struggling Cowboys secondary. Breaston might not go in Week 17 against the 49ers’ 23rd-ranked pass defense, and that may give Roberts a chance to showcase the repertoire he developed with quarterback John Skelton while playing on Arizona’s scout team for most of 2010.
Jacoby Jones, Texans
Tabbed as a potential breakout player in 2010, Jones has been a huge disappointment for his fantasy owners. But he has come on of late. With 110 yards on five receptions this past week, Jones has now either topped 100 yards or scored in three of his last four games. Plus, with 25 targets over his last three games, Jones is becoming a more consistent option in the Texans’ weekly games plan. If only that had been the case earlier in the season, Jones may have had the breakout performance many had predicted.
Reggie Wayne, Colts
Similar to last season, Wayne is coming up empty as the regular season closes. Last year it was because the Colts were playing meaningless games at the end of the season. This year there’s no simple excuse for Wayne’s poor performance over the past two weeks. He was held to five receptions for 34 yards against a porous Jaguars secondary two weeks ago. Then the Raiders defense shut him down by shadowing him with Nnamdi Asomugha, allowing him only three receptions for 40 yards.
Wes Welker, Patriots
Welker’s roller coaster season seems to be on the downswing again, with the Patriots slot receiver catching just three passes in each of the last two games for a total of 61 yards and no touchdowns. Welker had a pair of solid games to start the season, and then he went cold for six weeks before rebounding with solid performances between Weeks 10 and 14. With New England having locked up the top seed in the AFC, there is little reason for Welker to play in Week 17. Look for him to either skip the game or to be used sparingly.
Steve Smith, Panthers
Just the numbers, baby, just the numbers. Seven receptions for 56 yards over his last three games. No touchdowns since Week 2. Two touchdowns in all of 2010. No 100-yard games this season. Only four games with more than 50 receiving yards. Time as a solid fantasy wide receiver: over.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
With Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup with a hip injury, Gronkowski had his second double-digit point game in his last three outings with four receptions for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hernandez has received most of the pub, but Gronkowski has also been solid, catching close to 75 percent of his targets while hauling in nine touchdown passes. Gronkowski has great keeper potential and is a solid option in Week 17, even if Hernandez is a go.
Jared Cook, Titans
Tennessee’s 2009 third-round pick got his first start this week and came through in a big way with five receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Better yet, he had a healthy nine targets. Bo Scaife got the franchise tag in 2010, but the team was never serious about signing him to a long-term contract extension. The plan seems to have been to buy a year until Cook was ready. Scaife will return in 2011, but in a backup capacity, and that makes Cook a solid prospect in dynasty leagues.
Bo Scaife, Titans
Benched and done as a starter in Tennessee.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Gonzo hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards in his last four games and has just one touchdown and 104 receiving yards during that stretch. In fact, he’s topped 50 yards only three times all season, and with five touchdowns, he’s not scoring all that often either.