Caleb Hanie, Bears
With Jay Cutler expected to miss the remainder of the regular season with a broken thumb, Hanie steps into the starting line up for the Bears. While Hanie has done little in the regular season over the course of his four-year career (10 of 17 for 144 yards and a pick), it’s worth noting that he played well in relief of Cutler in last year’s NFC Championship game, completing 13 of 20 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions. It’s also worth noting that offensive coordinator Mike Martz saw fit to drop Hanie to third on the depth chart at one point behind veteran journeyman Todd Collins. Ouch. Well, Collins is gone so Martz will have to ride Hanie and he has the arm strength to make some plays in the passing game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills
Money can change a man and that certainly seems to be the case with Fitzpatrick. I guess the Harvard grad has spent more time over the last three weeks studying his bank account than the game plan. Since signing a six-year, $59-million contract extension, he has gone stone cold with 546 passing yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions, doing his best to make Bills management look like fools for handing him an overly generous extension. With running back Fred Jackson and leading wide receiver Steve Johnson banged up, starting wide receiver Donald Jones now out of the line up for an extended period and the league’s defenses having figured out the Bills spread offense, the next few games don’t look good for Fitzpatrick.
Tyler Palko, Chiefs
I gave him a Moving Up last week, more or less because he had an opportunity. After this week’s debacle on Monday night against the Patriots, I’m convinced he has virtually no chance of making the most of that opportunity. Not fast enough to make plays with his legs. An arm that can barely make a 15-yard throw on a rope. Only one running back or tight end capable of making something out of a short pass. With Palko starting, the Chiefs offense is doomed especially considering the Steelers, Bears and Jets are up next.
Sam Bradford, Rams
Unless Jason Smith (concussion) returns to the line up this week, the Rams are down to their second string right tackle (Adam Goldberg) and their third string left tackle (undrafted rookie free agent Kevin Hughes). That’s not good news since offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is stubbornly refusing to scale down the intermediate and deep routes that Bradford is getting killed on because the offensive line can’t hold up in pass protection. It also doesn’t help that Bradford has not proven adept at connecting on deep passes. With five touchdown passes in eight games, Bradford is suffering a sophomore slump that brings into doubt his viability in dynasty leagues.
Kevin Smith, Lions
Smith is going to be the leading pick up in all leagues this week, courtesy of a monster game this week against the Panthers. With Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams doing very little, Smith was signed off the street two weeks ago and given an opportunity against Carolina, gaining 140 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries and also catching four passes for 61 yards and another touchdown. A 3rd round pick in the 2008 draft, Smith was once viewed as the Lions long term answer at running back before numerous injuries derailed his career. The latest timetable on the return of incumbent starter Jahvid Best is sometime prior to the end of the season. Consider Smith worthy of a start until Best reclaims the lead role.
Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns
The Browns have already ruled out Peyton Hillis for Week 12 and head coach Pat Shumur plans to be cautious with Montario Hardesty. That means Ogbonnaya will once again be the featured back for Cleveland, this time against division rival Cincinnati. This week against the Jaguars, Ogbonnaya topped 100 total yards for the second consecutive game, gaining 115 yards and a score on the ground and catching two passes for 19 yards. Consider him a low end RB2 or solid flex play against a Bengals run defense that ranks 3rd in the league.
Ryan Grant, Packers
With a Thursday game and a 12:30 ET start time, the odds of James Starks being ready after suffering knee and ankle sprains this week against the Bucs seem pretty low. That means he will miss a chance to shine against the Lions 27th ranked run defense. Enter Grant who gained 92 yards on 17 carries against the Bears in Week 3 in his only double-digit carry game of the season.
Toby Gerhart, Vikings
He ain’t sexy, he’s my AP handcuff. With Adrian Peterson unlikely to play this week against the Falcons due to a high ankle sprain, Gerhart will step into the starting line up for the Vikings. It was ugly for Gerhart this week with just 18 yards on seven carries but it’s not like AP did much in that game either (six for 26). In Gerhart’s only start in his 2010 rookie season, he played well against the Bears, gaining 77 yards on 16 carries and catching three balls for 18 yards. He’s not going to get you a win in Week 12 but he’s not likely to be an albatross either.
C.J. Spiller, Bills
With Fred Jackson day to day with a calf injury, Spiller figures to give up some of his pass receiving duties and line up more frequently in the backfield in Week 12, although Jackson is expected to play. Unfortunately, Spiller struggled at the goal line this week and will face a stiff challenge against the Jets in what amounts to a must win game for the Bills. He has been persona non grata in the run game for most of the season, with a season high five carries back in Week 1, no carries in two straight games (Weeks 6 and 8 ) and six carries over the last three weeks (for eight yards). So, no, don’t get too excited.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
So much for Mathews becoming a consistent fantasy threat at running back in 2011. After topping 100 total yards in each of his first five games and scoring three touchdowns over that stretch, Mathews has failed to hit double-digit fantasy points in his last four games and failed to score in six straight games. He is coming off his worst rushing performance of the year, gaining just 37 yards on 13 carries against the Bears this week. While the groin injury he suffered in Week 10 doesn’t appear to be hindering him, the Bolts banged up offensive line is definitely an issue.
Jackie Battle, Chiefs
Battle was getting a healthy dose of touches for four straight games (averaging 17.3 per game) but that’s come to an end over the last two weeks and the running back situation in Kansas City now seems to be a three headed fantasy monster with Battle, Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones splitting time. That makes Battle a risky start in all formats, especially considering that the Chiefs have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the league and will be using the noodle armed Tyler Palko at quarterback.
Jordy Nelson, Packers
Meet the Packers top fantasy wide receiver. To the back seat, Mr. Jennings. With his second consecutive two-touchdown performance, Nelson moved past Jennings in the fantasy points race and is now the third ranked fantasy wide receiver behind only Calvin Johnson and Wes Welker. Suffice it to say that nobody saw that coming. Nelson has been on a tear over the last five weeks, catching 22 of his 25 targets for 447 yards and six touchdowns. If only the Packers coaches would up that target total.
Victor Cruz, Giants
Meet the Giants top fantasy wide receiver. That’s right, folks, that honor goes to Victor Cruz. Who woulda thunk it? With defenses focused on shutting down Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham missing time and continuing to struggle with consistency, Cruz has been on fire for the Giants. This week, the former undrafted free agent beat Eagles high priced cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for a touchdown for the second consecutive game this season on his way to six receptions, 128 yards, and 18.8 fantasy points. Cruz has been Mr. Reliable over his last eight games, gaining at least 84 yards in every game save for a Week 6 clunker against the Bills where he caught two passes for 12 yards.
Jerome Simpson, Bengals
When Simpson is the Man, he looks good. When he’s playing second fiddle, he’s useless. Figure that one out. In two starts at the end of last season, with Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens on the shelf, Simpson looked like a world beater, catching 18 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns, this after catching three passes over the first 46 games of his career. With rookie A.J. Green taking over as the team’s lead wide receiver, Simpson was quiet for most of the first nine games of this season, save for a pair of 100-yard outings. With Green out this week, he went off for eight receptions for 152 yards, easily his best performance of the season. While Green may play this week, the knee injury he suffered in Week 9 may hold him back, making Simpson a reasonably decent option if you are desperate.
Torrey Smith, Ravens
Lee Evans was back in the line up and Smith basically gave that the ole so what? Evans had just one target to Smith’s seven and he made sure he made the most of them, catching six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in a key Ravens win over the Bengals. Smith now has scores in two of his last three games and the target split this week seems to indicate that Smith owners have no worries about Evans eating into his opportunities.
Santana Moss, Redskins
He was likely dumped in most redraft leagues and he almost ready to return from the broken hand he suffered in Week 6, maybe even by Week 12. If you’re desperate and the waiver wire is empty, grab Moss a week early.
Steve Johnson, Bills
Johnson started the season on a tear for the Bills, proving that his breakout 2010 season of 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and ten touchdowns was no fluke. Or was it? With 24 receptions for 314 yards and three touchdowns over his first four games, Johnson appeared well on his way to establishing himself as a top 10 fantasy wide receiver. However, in the six games since then, he has just 22 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown and he is trending downward with two receptions in each of his last two games and no touchdowns in four straight contests. Defenses seem to have figured out the Bills spread offense and it is possible that the shoulder injury Johnson suffered in Week 10 is hindering his production.
Wes Welker, Patriots
Eight receptions for 68 yards in his last two games. Opposing defenses are focusing on shutting him down. Just saying, although it is worth noting that not many teams have the quality cornerbacks that the Jets and Chiefs possess.
Devin Hester, Bears
Hester was only worth owning in deeper leagues but with no targets in his last two games, he’s not worth owning in any league.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Let’s just say that Gronkowski has been on an absolute tear over the last four weeks, blowing past the Saints Jimmy Graham to become the top rated fantasy tight end thus far in 2011. With a pair of touchdowns this week against the Chiefs, Gronkowski has now scored five touchdowns over his last three games and is up to ten on the season. In addition, he has 404 receiving yards over his last four games and has become the team’s main receiving threat with opposing defenses focused on shutting down Wes Welker. Consider Gronkowski a solid bet to be the top rated tight end at season’s end.
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
With Gronkowski on a roll, Hernandez has seen his playing time and opportunities reduced to the point where he’s a touchdown or bust option at tight end. That was fine and dandy when he was scoring a touchdown a game for three straight weeks but he hasn’t found the end zone for two straight weeks. Ignoring the touchdowns, let’s recap his last four games: two receptions for nine yards (four targets), four receptions for 35 yards (five tarets), four receptions for 41 yards (five targets), four receptions for 44 yards (seven targets).
Fred Davis, Redskins
When Santana Moss went down with an injury in Week 6, Davis’ fantasy outlook seemed to brighten since he was clearly the team’s last remaining playmaking threat in the passing game. That theory held up well when Davis has a pair of solid games in Weeks 7 and 8 but in the three games since then, he has tallied just 13 receptions for 119 yards. It looks like the Redskins poor quarterback play is dragging down a player who was coming into his own in his fourth season in the league.