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Prepping for the Stretch Run

  Posted 11/5 by Jason Wood, Exclusive to Footballguys.com


Nine weeks are in the books and, by now, you have a great sense of whether you're a playoff contender. Most fantasy leagues last 13 or 14 weeks, which means you have about a month left to get your house in order. For some of you, that means making a key trade or two in order to push your way into one of your league's final playoff berths. For others, that means doing what it takes to maintain your current spot in the standings and, more importantly, making sure your roster is optimized for the playoffs.

Don't sit on your laurels...the heroes so far may not be the heroes come playoff time

In 2003, Steve McNair was the top rated fantasy QB through Week 9 and was no doubt helping many fantasy owners sit atop their league standings. Yet, he was only the 10th best fantasy QB in the key playoff weeks of 13-16. On the flip side, Donovan McNabb was nowhere to be found in the first nine weeks of the 2003 season, ranking outside the top 20. Yes, in the key playoff weeks, he was the 9th best fantasy QB. Jeff Garcia was a marginal fantasy option through the first 9 weeks, ranking 12th. But in Weeks 13-16, he was the top fantasy passer in the game. Here are 2003's top 20 fantasy QBs through week 9, and how they performed in Weeks 13-16.

Table A: Top 20 Fantasy QBs [2003 - Through Week 9]

Player
Rank1-9
Rank13-16
Change
Steve McNair
1
10
(9)
Peyton Manning
2
5
(3)
Brad Johnson
3
13
(10)
Marc Bulger
4
7
(3)
Aaron Brooks
5
3
2
Brett Favre
6
2
4
Matt Hasselbeck
7
17
(10)
Tom Brady
8
16
-8
Kerry Collins
9
-
(11)+
Jon Kitna
10
8
2
Trent Green
11
6
5
Jeff Garcia
12
1
11
Daunte Culpepper
13
4
9
Patrick Ramsey
14
-
(6)+
Quincy Carter
15
14
1
Jeff Blake
16
-
(4)+
Tommy Maddox
17
15
2
Drew Bledsoe
18
-
(2)+
David Carr
19
-
(1)+
Vinny Testaverde
20
-
(1)+

Just so you don't think this was a fluke, consider the following:

In 2004...

  • Only 4 of the top 10 QBs through Week 9 managed to put up top 10 numbers in Weeks 13-16
  • Billy Volek was the top rated fantasy QB in the playoff weeks after being a non factor all season
  • Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselbeck were top 8 fantasy QBs in Weeks 13-16 after being middling QB2s through Week 9
  • Jake Plummer was the 3rd best fantasy QB through Week 9, but wasn't a top 20 option in the playoff weeks

In 2005...

  • Only 4 of the top 10 QBs through Week 9 managed top 10 numbers in Weeks 13-16
  • Brett Favre was QB6 through Week 9, but threw 0 TDs and 8 picks in Weeks 13-16
  • Kyle Boller wasn't a top 20 QB through Week 9 but was the 3rd best fantasy QB in the playoff stretch
  • Eli Manning was the 9th ranked QB but finished a paltry QB18 in Weeks 13-16

In 2006...

  • Once again, only 4 of the top 10 fantasy QBs through Week 9 were top 10 options in Weeks 13-16
  • Vince Young (QB4), J.P. Losman (QB6), Jay Cutler (QB7) and Big Ben (QB8) all came from outside the top 20 through 9 weeks to deliver top 10 numbers when it counted most

In 2007...

  • Six of the top 10 fantasy QBs through Week 9 finished as top 10 options in Weeks 13-16
  • Kurt Warner was a non factor at this point in the season, but was QB2 in Weeks 13-16
  • David Garrard was QB3 in the playoff weeks, after being unranked beforehand
  • Derek Anderson, the toast of the fantasy world at QB3 exiting Week 9, floundered to a QB14 ranking when it counted most
  • Eli Manning, remember for his heroic playoff run, was a marginal QB13 through Week 9 but struggled at QB23 in Weeks 13-16

For those playing at home, over the last five seasons less than half of the QBs ranked among the top 10 through the end of Week 9 finished as top 10 fantasy options in Weeks 13-16.

This is NOT limited to the QB position, in each skill position, the guys who may have got you to a winning record through this point in the season are quite likely NOT the guys you'll need to win in the playoffs.

So what's a fantasy owner to do?

Be prepared. Be realistic. Recognize that if you're sitting in 1st place right now you stand an excellent chance of NOT having the best team during the playoffs. If you happen to have a great bench and are ready and willing to swap out some players come playoff time, you'll be fine. But if the guys on your bench look iffy, you better be taking this time to trade for guys who CAN help you win.

What the Schedule tells us...

Footballguy Clayton Gray coordinates a detailed Strength of Schedule Analysis that's update weekly on our site. One thing many people may not realize is what a powerful tool Clayton's SOS analysis can be in terms of assessing your roster for playoff readiness. His SOS doesn't simply look backward but takes our forward projections and balances them against what opposing defenses have allowed season-to-date. I personally rely on it for not only weekly roster decisions but for being aggressive on the waiver wire and at the trade deadline, and you should be too.


Quarterback (QB) Thoughts

I've sorted Clayton's SOS by the final column, which shows the fantasy points allowed by the opposing defenses the given team will play over the final 4 weeks of the season. While this isn't an exact proxy for the Week 13-16 block I reference earlier, it's close enough for what we're trying to accomplish.

Numbers in RED are the 8 easiest schedules over that span. Numbers in BLUE denote the most difficult 8 schedules.

Another important column to watch is the Dif column. Dif represents the difference between a team's remaining games and those already played. Simply put, a positive number implies an EASIER schedule going forward. A negative number implies a HARDER schedule.

Tm
Rem
Dif
Re16
Di16
Nxt3
Fnl4
GB
17.3
1.2
16.8
0.7
16.6
19.1
Sea
18.0
2.1
17.6
1.6
17.3
18.8
NE
17.4
0.3
17.7
0.5
17.0
18.7
StL
17.8
0.9
17.9
1.0
17.1
18.6
Min
17.5
1.7
17.8
2.0
16.5
18.5
KC
18.0
2.1
18.1
2.2
17.8
18.3
Chi
17.0
1.2
16.6
0.8
15.9
18.2
Ari
17.4
1.3
16.9
0.8
17.3
17.8
Buf
16.9
(2.3)
17.1
(2.2)
16.3
17.7
Ind
17.5
0.9
18.2
1.5
17.8
17.6
Oak
16.8
(0.8)
17.2
(0.5)
15.8
17.6
SF
17.6
(0.8)
18.2
(0.3)
19.0
17.2
NYJ
16.9
(0.7)
17.0
(0.7)
16.1
17.1
SD
15.6
(1.0)
15.2
(1.5)
13.6
16.9
Atl
16.9
0.8
16.6
0.5
16.1
16.7
Mia
17.5
(0.9)
17.3
(1.1)
18.1
16.7
Car
17.1
(0.2)
17.1
(0.3)
18.3
16.6
TB
17.2
0.4
17.1
0.4
18.2
16.6
Was
17.0
(0.4)
17.1
(0.2)
18.7
16.5
NO
16.1
0.0
16.7
0.6
16.3
16.4
Den
16.7
(0.7)
16.2
(1.2)
16.9
16.0
Bal
16.5
1.3
16.1
0.9
17.1
15.9
Pit
16.0
(0.9)
15.9
(1.0)
16.2
15.8
Hou
15.8
(0.1)
15.7
(0.2)
14.7
15.7
Phi
16.7
0.1
16.7
0.1
16.6
15.7
Dal
16.0
(0.6)
16.0
(0.6)
15.0
15.4
Ten
17.0
0.4
17.9
1.3
18.3
15.1
Det
14.9
(1.5)
14.8
(1.6)
15.3
15.0
Jac
16.2
0.5
16.1
0.4
16.5
15.0
NYG
16.0
(0.6)
16.1
(0.6)
17.9
15.0
Cle
15.6
(0.7)
15.9
(0.4)
18.0
14.9
Cin
14.9
(1.8)
14.6
(2.1)
14.6
14.5
Avg
16.8
n/a
16.8
n/a
16.8
16.7

Potential Studs [Players to keep or try to acquire]

  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay - Rodgers has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners but the best is yet to come. No team has an easier schedule against the pass than Green Bay over the final month of the season. On top of that, his schedule is easier from here on out, which bodes well for further improvement. One word of caution though, Rodgers faces the Bears @ Soldier Field in Week 16.
  • Kurt Warner, Arizona - Warner has his cadre of weapons fully healthy, has been lighting it up so far, and has one of the easiest schedules remaining; with three homes games. Don't be scared off by the Week 13 game @ Philly or the Week 16 game @ New England. Neither defense is among the elite fantasy options against the pass.

Potential Sleepers [Players available on the cheap who could make your season]

  • Seneca Wallace/Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle - It's unclear whether Matt Hasselbeck will be well for the final few weeks of the season, but Seneca Wallace is not without talent in his own right. The Seahawks have struggled mightily, but there is a lot to like over the final month of the season. The schedule is easy, and no team has a more beneficial difference between the quality of defenses faced to date, and those it faces going forward. Make a trade offer for one of these guys as part of a bigger deal, treat them like a throw in and possibly ride them to a key playoff win.
  • Tyler Thigpen, Kansas City - Usually when a team turns to the 3rd stringer, all bets are off. But Thigpen is an intriguing option who many observers thought was the best QB in Chiefs camp, but was ultimately relegated to clipboard duties as the team gave Brodie Croyle one more chance to cement himself. Thigpen is a mobile guy and has looked decent in his playing time of late. With an easy schedule, and a team that's likely playing loose with nothing to lose in December, he could be a savior that you can acquire on the cheap.

Drop-off Candidates [Players you should consider trading away while stock is high]

  • Eli Manning, New York - The Giants stand at 7-1 and Manning is now widely [and justifiably] respected. But you can't forget that he has a history of subpar fantasy production as the season wears on, and the wintery weather takes hold. In a normal year Manning would be a risky play in the final weeks of the season, but this year especially so as he has the 3rd hardest schedule during the playoff run.
  • Philip Rivers, San Diego - Rivers is enjoying a breakout year and you might be looking at his reaming SOS and think things look fine. But dig a little deeper. One, a difficult schedule gets harder; Rivers will face tougher defenses going forward than he did through Week 9. Two, the Chargers have an overwhelmingly easy schedule against the RUN in the key playoff weeks; meaning LaDainian Tomlinson is going to be able to run wild and the Chargers aren't going to need to throw a lot to rattle off a lot of wins. I'm not saying to drop or trade Rivers, but don't expect him to put up top 5 numbers down the stretch either.
  • Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia - McNabb has been rock solid this year and is healthy. He's also got his receiving corps rounding into shape as Kevin Curtis returns from hernia surgery. That said, the Eagles don't have an easy schedule down the stretch run including two road games against division rivals.

Quick Hits on Other QBs

  • Matt Cassel, New England - You may notice the easy remaining schedule. But Cassel had a very easy schedule to date and has done precious little with it. Don't expect Belichick to put the team's playoff hopes in Cassel's hands, particularly as it gets cold.
  • Marc Bulger, St. Louis - Bulger has an easy schedule and it should be demonstrably easier than his schedule to date. But it's hard to bet on him with the lack of playmakers in the WR corps and the state of the offensive line. Bulger could be a solid surprise, but don't break the bank getting him.
  • Kyle Orton/Rex Grossman, Chicago - Wondering why I'm not highlighting Kyle Orton [or Rex Grossman depending on Orton's injury status]? Because despite an easy SOS going forward, the Bears play Weeks 14, 15 and 16 at home. Soldier Field in December is murder on passing stats, don't forget that.
  • Jay Cutler, Denver - Cutler was off to a rocking start but has flat lined a bit of late. While he has the talent and supporting cast to bounce back, his schedule is ominous come playoff time.

Running Back (RB) Thoughts

Numbers in RED are the 8 easiest schedules over that span. Numbers in BLUE denote the most difficult 8 schedules.

TM
Rem
Dif
Re16
Di16
Nxt3
Fnl4
SD
24.1
4.3
23.5
3.7
23.3
25.4
Mia
23.0
3.6
23.8
4.4
21.5
23.2
Cin
19.0
0.6
16.8
(1.6)
14.2
22.9
GB
19.4
(0.4)
18.7
(1.1)
17.3
22.2
Chi
21.2
2.1
20.6
1.5
22.4
21.8
Ind
20.5
1.6
20.7
1.8
18.8
21.7
Hou
20.6
1.2
21.0
1.6
19.5
21.1
Ten
20.6
(1.2)
20.1
(1.7)
19.1
20.9
Den
21.2
0.4
21.7
0.9
22.9
20.9
KC
20.8
0.9
20.7
0.8
18.8
20.9
NE
18.4
(5.0)
18.3
(5.0)
17.5
20.4
StL
19.5
2.4
19.2
2.2
19.7
20.3
TB
19.8
(1.7)
18.7
(2.8)
19.6
20.0
Ari
19.1
0.3
19.1
0.2
19.5
19.9
Buf
21.8
1.5
22.4
2.0
23.7
19.9
Det
18.7
(0.8)
18.3
(1.2)
16.8
19.9
Sea
18.1
(1.8)
18.3
(1.5)
15.4
19.7
NYJ
21.3
0.4
22.1
1.2
21.3
19.6
NO
20.8
1.5
21.8
2.5
24.9
19.3
Car
21.2
2.0
21.5
2.2
24.0
19.2
Min
19.0
(1.6)
19.6
(1.1)
19.2
19.2
Jac
20.0
(1.4)
20.9
(0.5)
19.4
19.1
Atl
19.4
(1.3)
18.3
(2.4)
20.5
18.9
Oak
20.8
(0.4)
21.7
0.5
19.4
18.9
SF
19.5
1.2
20.3
1.9
20.9
18.7
Was
18.2
(0.7)
17.3
(1.6)
19.7
18.4
Pit
19.3
1.0
19.1
0.8
21.3
18.2
Phi
16.9
(2.7)
16.5
(3.1)
16.5
17.4
Bal
18.2
(2.1)
17.6
(2.6)
18.3
17.3
Cle
20.7
4.2
21.7
5.2
24.1
17.2
NYG
15.3
(4.7)
15.3
(4.7)
14.8
15.9
Dal
16.3
(2.0)
16.5
(1.8)
19.0
14.1
Avg
19.8
n/a
19.8
n/a
19.8
19.8

Potential Studs [Players to keep or try to acquire]

  • LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego - Last year Tomlinson was his usually dominant self, but let his owners down in the fantasy playoffs. This year, expect the opposite. He ranks just 12th through nine weeks, but has an overwhelmingly easy schedule the rest of the way, including the easiest stretch run in the league. If there's an owner in your league who remembers Tomlinson's late season struggles of the past, take advantage and acquire him NOW.
  • Ronnie Brown [and Ricky Williams], Miami - Ronnie Brown ranks 8th currently but expect better things down the stretch. Already dominating opposing defenses, he has a much easier schedule the rest of the way and no team save for the Chargers has an easier group of fantasy run defenses in the key playoff weeks. If you can roster Ricky Williams on the cheap, do so because any injury to Brown would open the door for compelling late season fantasy heroics by Williams.
  • Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo - Lynch "only" has 477 yards rushing so far but ranks RB14 thanks to 6 rushing TDs and 177 receiving yards. Lynch faces an easier schedule down the stretch and should benefit as the Bills transition to more ball control once the wintery weather sets in. Fred Jackson will get touches, but not enough to keep Lynch from ending the year in the Top 10 over the stretch run.
  • Steven Jackson, St. Louis - Jackson was a top 5 pick in most leagues so owners probably aren't ready to give up on him. That said, if you have him and have remained in competition despite his uneven play, be happy because better times are ahead. Jackson's situation looks advantageous from here on out, and his schedule improves over the final 7 games markedly compared to what he's faced to date.

Potential Sleepers [Players who could make your season]

  • Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay - I wasn't sold on Graham to start the season and his RB16 ranking doesn't match his preseason draft expectations. That said, Warrick Dunn is banged up and Graham has begun to assert himself.
  • Joseph Addai, Indianapolis - Addai has been banged up, but returned this week and should round back into shape before the stretch run. A lot of owners are disgusted with Addai and are worried that Dominic Rhodes will play a 50/50 committee with Addai the rest of the way. Don't bet on it. As long as Addai gets healthy, he'll carry the Colts on a late season playoff push, and has a great fantasy schedule to help deliver you a league title to boot.
  • LenDale White, Tennessee - White is "only" ranked RB17 thus far but he leads the NFL with 10 rushing TDs. The Titans schedule is favorable down the stretch. At worst, you have a solid RB2. At best, if Chris Johnson got hurt, you have a top 10 stud for your playoff games.
  • Jonathan Stewart, Carolina - Stewart has been outplayed by DeAngelo Williams thus far but you shouldn't let that stop you from acquiring him down the stretch. Stewart will come cheaply yet he has the size and power to factor in late in the season, particularly as the coaching staff stops looking at him as a "rookie."

Drop-off Candidates [Players you should consider trading away while stock is high]

  • Marion Barber, Dallas - Barber currently sits at RB2 and has been a bright spot in an otherwise rough stretch for the once potent Cowboys offense. Unfortunately, his schedule is BY FAR the toughest of any back's over the final month of the season.
  • Michael Turner, Atlanta - Michael Turner has been as good as advertised, ranking 7th through Week 9. Yet, he's a high risk candidate to fall off a bit during the stretch run. One, the Falcons schedule against the run is in the bottom half of the league over the final month of the season. Two, the Falcons schedule is harder the rest of the way than it was through Week 9. Of specific concern is Turner's Week 15 matchup against Tampa Bay and Week 16 battle at Minnesota.
  • Brandon Jacobs, New York - The Giants are rolling along and Jacobs currently sits 9th among fantasy backs. He could be a disappointment down the stretch despite the strong start. Only New England has a bigger delta between their prior games and remaining schedule.

Quick Hits on Other RBs

  • The Chiefs RBs - Larry Johnson is in the doghouse but he's talented and healthy. The Chiefs schedule sets Johnson up for a solid finish. If Johnson has worn out his welcome, Jamaal Charles will get the lion's share of work; but probably isn't talented enough to bank on.
  • Cedric Benson, Cincinnati - Benson had a 100-yard game this week, and has the 3rd easiest schedule over the final month. Don't count on him saving your bacon, but finding a way to quietly acquire him for you bench isn't the worst idea.
  • Matt Forte, Chicago - Forte owners aren't going to give him up, nor should they. No rookie has a clearer path to fantasy stardom that Forte as he has a great schedule in the final months, three homes games, and a staunch defense that will help the Bears play ball control in the cold December Sundays.
  • Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia - Westbrook makes much of his mark as a receiver, which is a good thing because the Eagles face extremely tough run defenses in Weeks 14 (NYG) and 16 (WAS).
  • Steve Slaton, Houston and Chris Johnson, Tennessee - Barring injury, it's hard to argue that either of these rookies stops being productive down the stretch. Their schedules are advantageous as are their situations.
  • AFC North RBs - Things don't look promising for Willis McGahee, Willie Parker or Jamal Lewis to reestablish themselves as studs down the playoff stretch. While they could bounce back, it's not something I would bet on if you're counting on top-10 production from them.

Wide Receiver (WR) Thoughts

Numbers in RED are the 8 easiest schedules over that span. Numbers in BLUE denote the most difficult 8 schedules.

TM
Rem
Dif
Re16
Di16
Nxt3
Fnl4
Min
21.5
3.0
21.3
2.9
19.3
22.7
Sea
21.5
1.9
21.0
1.4
20.7
22.6
Ari
21.4
2.4
21.1
2.0
21.7
22.2
GB
21.0
2.2
20.6
1.8
21.5
22.2
KC
21.4
2.7
21.3
2.6
21.6
22.1
StL
21.2
0.2
21.4
0.5
20.3
21.9
NE
20.3
0.3
20.3
0.3
20.2
21.8
Car
20.7
(0.5)
20.4
(0.9)
20.4
21.7
Buf
21.6
(0.1)
21.4
(0.3)
22.5
21.6
NYJ
20.9
(0.6)
20.9
(0.7)
20.0
21.1
Oak
20.4
(0.7)
20.6
(0.4)
19.5
20.9
Atl
20.6
1.5
20.2
1.1
20.1
20.8
Chi
19.5
1.0
19.4
0.9
18.2
20.7
Ind
20.2
0.3
21.1
1.3
18.8
20.4
Phi
21.5
1.7
21.8
1.9
21.8
20.4
NO
19.6
1.1
20.4
1.9
19.4
20.1
SD
18.5
(1.8)
17.8
(2.4)
15.8
20.1
SF
21.0
(1.8)
21.7
(1.1)
22.7
19.9
Mia
20.9
(0.8)
21.2
(0.5)
21.6
19.8
Was
20.7
(0.7)
21.1
(0.4)
21.8
19.8
Pit
19.6
(1.0)
19.0
(1.6)
18.6
19.5
Den
19.7
(1.3)
19.4
(1.6)
20.4
19.2
Dal
19.1
(1.6)
19.4
(1.3)
17.4
18.8
Jac
18.7
0.0
18.5
(0.3)
18.7
18.3
TB
19.8
(0.8)
20.1
(0.5)
21.1
18.3
Cin
17.9
(1.7)
17.4
(2.2)
16.0
18.1
Hou
18.8
0.3
18.2
(0.3)
18.8
18.1
Bal
19.3
0.7
18.9
0.3
20.1
18.0
Det
17.4
(2.2)
17.4
(2.2)
18.1
17.8
Ten
19.8
0.5
20.9
1.6
21.3
17.6
NYG
18.6
(1.6)
18.6
(1.6)
21.1
17.5
Cle
18.0
(1.7)
18.5
(1.2)
21.3
17.0
Avg
20.0
n/a
20.0
n/a
20.0
20.0

Potential Studs [Players to keep or try to acquire]

  • Bernard Berrian, Minnesota - Despite having Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at QB, Berrian has lived up to his free agent contract and defied critics. Sitting at WR9 through this week, Berrian has the easiest fantasy schedule during the fantasy playoff run.
  • Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Arizona - OK, I feel silly recommending these guys as studs, but the numbers look fantastic. You already know these guys can put up big numbers, now imagine what they could do down the stretch with the 3rd easiest fantasy schedule AND one of the biggest improvement between their schedule up to this point and what remains.
  • Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City - Dwayne Bowe is quietly WR19 through Week 9. I personally think Tyler Thigpen will put up better numbers than the other Chiefs QBs. As importantly, no WR corps has an better improvement between the defenses they face going forward and what they've faced through Week 9.
  • Marques Colston, New Orleans - Fantasy owners who hung onto Colston through his injury are no doubt frustrated. Use that to your advantage and acquire him for the stretch run. The Saints come off their bye week and Colston is rounding into shape. Not only does he have the most productive QB throwing to him, but the Saints schedule gets easier from here.

Potential Sleepers [Players who could make your season]

  • Donnie Avery, St. Louis - An easy schedule combined with a steadily increasing role. Avery has been better than Torry Holt of late and with Drew Bennett officially out for the season, it's Avery's time to shine.
  • Isaac Bruce, San Francisco - Mike Martz always finds a way, and Bruce has been the most consistent WR on the 49ers. The schedule is middle of the road in the final month but the 49ers have a great matchup in Week 16 against his former team, the Rams.
  • Eddie Royal, Denver & DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia - The pair of rookies got off to incredible starts but have slowed considerably ranking 25th and 28th, respectively. The good news for both is they have advantageous schedules down the stretch run and neither will be double teamed often as Royal has Brandon Marshall while Jackson gets Kevin Curtis back to help keep opposing secondaries honest.
  • Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis - Peyton Manning spoke this week about how hard he and Gonzalez have been working on their chemistry. With Marvin Harrison looking more than a few steps too slow, Gonzalez should emerge as a starter sooner rather than later. If that's not enough, consider that the Colts face Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit in Weeks 13-15.

Drop-off Candidates [Players you should consider trading away while stock is high]

  • Calvin Johnson, Detroit - I love Calvin Johnson and would give up almost anything to have him in a dynasty league. But the Lions lost Jon Kitna, have now lost Dan Orlovsky, and are probably looking at Drew Stanton or recently unretired Daunte Culpepper at QB. Combine that with an awful schedule down the stretch and I think Johnson is a high risk guy come fantasy playoff time.
  • Andre Johnson & Kevin Walter, Houston - It looks like Sage Rosenfels will take the helm in Houston and, meanwhile, the Texans have a bear of a schedule down the stretch. I wouldn't expect Johnson and Walter to completely falter but neither is likely to maintain their current levels of production.
  • Hines Ward, Pittsburgh - Hines Ward is WR18 but you need to consider a few things. One, he's done that in part because Santonio Holmes has been in the dog house. Two, Big Ben is hurt and due for an MRI later this week. Three, the Steelers face the Titans on the road in Week 16; aka the fantasy Super Bowl.
  • Vincent Jackson, San Diego - I would be wary of counting on Vincent Jackson down the stretch. The Chargers schedule gets more difficult down the stretch, while their opposing rush defense become a cakewalk.

Quick Hits on Other WRs

  • Greg Jennings, Green Bay - The schedule bodes well for Jennings to remain a top 10 fantasy option during the playoff stretch
  • Seattle Seahawks WRs - The Seahawks schedule leaves the door wide open for better productivity down the stretch. But right now it's tough to call which WR is worth targeting. Keep an eye on Koren Robinson in the next week or two; he could be the cheap but worthwhile pickup you're looking for.
  • Braylon Edwards, Cleveland - A lot of people are calling for Braylon Edwards to bounce back. I'm just not seeing it. The Browns WRs have THE toughest schedule in the key playoff weeks and Brady Quinn's inexperience is an additional risk factor.
  • Roddy White, Atlanta - Looks like his path is clear to continue a dominant season.
  • Randy Moss and Wes Welker, New England - The schedule looks fine, but resurgence seems unlikely given the mediocre fantasy play of Matt Cassel through Week 9.

Tight Ends (TE) Thoughts

Numbers in RED are the 8 easiest schedules over that span. Numbers in BLUE denote the most difficult 8 schedules.

TM
Rem
Dif
Re16
Di16
Nxt3
Fnl4
TB
7.5
1.4
7.5
1.5
7.2
8.0
Den
7.2
1.2
6.6
0.6
6.4
7.0
Sea
5.7
0.4
5.8
0.4
4.5
6.8
NO
6.1
0.0
6.1
0.0
6.3
6.7
NYG
6.3
1.0
6.3
1.0
6.5
6.7
Cle
6.1
1.0
6.2
1.1
5.7
6.6
Hou
6.1
0.1
6.1
0.1
5.3
6.6
KC
7.0
0.5
7.3
0.8
7.6
6.6
Oak
5.9
(1.2)
6.3
(0.8)
5.3
6.6
GB
6.3
0.1
6.1
(0.1)
6.0
6.5
Ind
6.9
0.7
6.8
0.7
7.9
6.5
Buf
5.6
(1.6)
5.7
(1.5)
5.1
6.3
Mia
6.3
(0.7)
5.6
(1.3)
6.2
6.3
Chi
6.4
(0.2)
6.4
(0.2)
6.6
6.2
Min
5.8
(0.5)
6.0
(0.3)
5.4
6.2
SF
5.8
(0.5)
6.1
(0.2)
5.6
6.2
Ari
6.1
0.4
6.0
0.3
5.1
6.1
Dal
5.6
0.2
5.1
(0.3)
4.1
6.1
Det
5.9
0.1
5.8
0.0
5.2
6.1
NE
6.2
(0.5)
6.4
(0.3)
6.6
6.1
StL
6.0
0.5
5.9
0.3
6.9
5.9
Jac
6.4
0.7
6.5
0.8
7.2
5.8
Was
5.6
(0.4)
5.9
(0.2)
6.0
5.8
Pit
6.2
0.6
6.4
0.8
7.3
5.7
Ten
6.6
0.8
6.8
1.0
7.6
5.6
Atl
6.4
0.1
6.5
0.1
5.9
5.5
Bal
5.7
0.2
5.6
0.1
6.4
5.3
SD
5.6
(0.5)
5.6
(0.6)
5.5
5.3
NYJ
5.5
(0.5)
5.7
(0.3)
6.1
5.0
Cin
5.7
(0.6)
5.7
(0.5)
7.3
4.9
Car
6.0
(0.4)
6.0
(0.4)
7.3
4.8
Phi
4.8
(0.9)
4.7
(0.9)
4.8
4.6
Avg
6.1
n/a
6.1
n/a
6.2
6.1

Potential Studs [Players to keep or try to acquire]

  • Tony Scheffler, Denver - Scheffler has been a disappointment thus far with only 16 catches through Week 9. But he is getting healthier and has the 2nd easiest schedule among fantasy TEs over the final playoff weeks.
  • Kellen Winslow, Cleveland - Winslow ranks TE20 because of an - ahem - medical issue. With the Browns WRs facing a difficult schedule down the stretch, but the TE matchups looking great, expect Winslow to be the lone bright spot among Browns skill position players.
  • Owen Daniels, Houston - Daniels is TE3 now so this isn't a major call. But he looks to be one of the safest bets among the current top 5 to stay there. He has a favorable schedule, the WR corps does not. Money in the bank.
  • Dallas Clark, Indianapolis - Clark was hurt but is back and ready to dominate. Although his schedule isn't particularly advantageous it does get easier from here than it's been to date.

Potential Sleepers [Players who could make your season]

  • Alex Smith, Tampa Bay - Smith ranks TE10 but the Bucs TEs have, by far, the easiest fantasy schedule in the final month of the season. With Smith already on the fringe of fantasy relevance, he could provide a nice boost and come cheaply for those savvy fantasy owners willing to plan ahead.
  • Kevin Boss, New York - Kevin Boss ranks TE16, but unlike most of his offensive counterparts in New York, his schedule actually improves down the stretch. While Boss isn't going to put up Witten or Gates numbers, he could produce top 6-8 numbers down the stretch.
  • John Carlson, Seattle - Rookie TEs usually don't make a lot of noise, but the Seahawks are bereft of playmakers and the Seahawks schedule looks good down the stretch.

Drop-off Candidates [Players you should consider trading away while stock is high]

  • Zach Miller, Oakland - Miller's schedule gets tougher from here on out, and the Raiders seem like the wheels could really come off down the stretch to boot.
  • Anthony Fasano, Miami - Fasano has been a pleasant surprise, but the Dolphins TE has a much tougher schedule the rest of the way than he has through Week 9

Concluding Thoughts

While I hope you come away with some specific ideas for players to target or trade away, the most important thing to remember is that the guys atop the rankings right now are not guaranteed [or even likely] to sit atop the rankings in the final weeks of the season. Winning your fantasy league is really a two part process. You have to win enough games to make the playoffs, but then you have to have the bench strength and foresight to change your lineup and optimize it for the final weeks. How many times have you seen the #1 seed in your league lose to the wild card? In one of my leagues last year, I was 14-0 in the regular season and lost in Weeks 15 AND 16 in the playoffs, finishing out of the money. That kind of thing happens all the time. Don't let the same thing happen to you.