1. Arian Foster — Foster has been a beast of burden this season, but he had a season-low 14 carries last week, rushing for 38 yards and a TD as the Texans built a comfortable lead and coasted to an easy win against the Titans. It’s unlikely Foster and the Texans will be able to do any coasting Monday night in New England. At 11-1, Houston is looking to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and the 9-3 Patriots are among the teams within striking distance. But with Foster already having logged 283 carries this season, it’s possible that the Texans will try to ease off on the throttle a bit to keep their franchise back fresh, rather than giving him 24 or more carries for a ninth time this season. The long-awaited return of Ben Tate from a hamstring injury gives the Texans two decent backups to help spell Foster (Justin Forsett being the other). Still, it’s not hard to imagine Foster clocking in with 27 or 28 carries to help the Texans avoid getting into a shootout with the Patriots, which would no doubt please his fantasy owners.
2. Drew Brees — I don’t know about you, but I would NOT want to be facing Brees in a fantasy game this week. The quarterback had his 54-game TD streak snapped last week in the Saints’ 23-13 loss to their bitter archrivals, the Falcons, and Brees threw a career-high five interceptions. The last time he threw more than two interceptions in a game was last season in an October loss to the Buccaneers. Brees went berserk the following week, throwing for 325 yards and five TDs (and no interceptions) in a 62-7 thrashing of the Colts. Brees is no doubt anxious to get the taste of humiliation out of his mouth after last week’s humbling performance, and he’ll get his chance Sunday afternoon in New Jersey when the Saints take on the Giants, who rank 22nd against the pass.
3. Bryce Brown — The rookie makes the “most intriguing” list for a second consecutive week, and how could he not? Brown has been sensational the past two weeks, and the RB situation in Philadelphia now promises to be a compelling story line during the offseason. Eagles starter LeSean McCoy, no slouch himself, is still recovering from a concussion. His status for this weekend remains unclear, although there is little incentive for the team to rush him back into action. Brown followed up a 178-yard, two-TD rushing performance against Carolina with a 169-yard, two-TD rushing game against Dallas last week. He also fumbled three times in those two games, but nobody is complaining … yet. Brown will face his most difficult test to date when the Eagles visit the Buccaneers this weekend. Tampa Bay has the NFL’s top-rated run defense and is allowing a league-low 3.4 yards per carry.
4. Demaryius Thomas — Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green might be on a tier of their own, but Thomas has arrived as an elite fantasy receiver and seems close to gaining membership to Calvin and A.J.’s cozy little superduperstar clubhouse. Thomas now has 1,114 receiving yards and eight TDs for the season, and he has produced four TDs in his last three games. He’ll be looking to draw first blood for his fantasy owners Thursday night when the Broncos visit the Raiders, whose defense long ago packed its bags, left a tip for housekeeping and checked out. Oakland has given up 37.8 points per game during its current five-game losing streak, and the Raiders have given up 24 TD passes this season.
5. Darren McFadden —D-Mac is back! After missing four games with an ankle injury, McFadden is expected to return for the Raiders’ Thursday-night game against the Broncos. But as his owners are well aware, McFadden wasn’t exactly having a banner season to begin with. He’s scored only two TDs in his eight games and is gaining a meager 3.3 yards per carry. It’s also unclear how much work McFadden will get on Thursday. The lowly Raiders have little incentive to risk his health with a 25-carry game, and Marcel Reece and Mike Goodson (also expected to return from an ankle injury this week) are available to share the load. But McFadden is a rare talent, and owners who keep him on the bench this week risk missing one of those vintage performances that can help carry a fantasy team to victory.
6. DeMarco Murray — Remember how good Murray looked in that Wednesday-night season opener against the Giants back in early September? He ran for 131 yards in that game, leaving his fantasy owners to believe that Murray was on the cusp of big things. But a month of disappointing numbers followed, and a mid-October foot injury kept Murray on the shelf until last Sunday night. His long-awaited return was encouraging, however, as Murray ran 23 times for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. The Murray owners who remain alive are hoping there’s still time for their investment in the Dallas running back to pay off. The Cowboys will be in Cincinnati this weekend to face the Bengals, who rank 11th against the run.
7. Mike Wallace — After a promising start that saw Wallace catch a TD pass in each of his first three games, the season has started to go south for the fleet-footed wideout. Over his last four games, Wallace has only 13 catches for 91 yards, and he has gone three straight games without a TD. Not surprisingly, the Wallace drought coincides with the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed Pittsburgh’s last three games with a rib injury. Roethlisberger could be back when the Steelers host the Chargers this weekend, but his return might not be a panacea for Wallace. The Steelers still aren’t on the best of terms with the receiver several months after his preseason holdout. The team is listing Wallace as a co-starter with Emmanuel Sanders at one WR spot opposite Antonio Brown (whose return from injury last week further threatens Wallace’s statistical productivity). An offseason parting of the ways seems inevitable, but whether or not Wallace is in the team doghouse, he remains capable of the sort of home-run TD catches that fantasy owners crave, making him a compelling risk/reward play this week.
9. Andrew Luck — It’s hard to tell whether Luck is hot or cold entering this week’s game against the Titans. He threw for 391 yards and four TDs against the Lions last week, leading the Colts to a thrilling last-minute victory. But Luck completed only 24-of-54 passes against the Lions and has completed barely 50 percent of his passes over his last three games despite facing three wobbly pass defenses (Detroit, Buffalo, New England). Last week was the first time all season that Luck has thrown more than two TD passes in a game. The good news for Luck owners is that Tennessee ranks 26th in pass defense and has yielded 24 TD passes. Luck was 26-for-38 against the Titans back in Week Eight, with 297 passing yards, one TD and one INT.
9. Steven Jackson — Jackson has quietly produced more than 100 yards from scrimmage in three of the past four games, and two of those games were against the 49ers, whose defense is arguably the NFL’s best. Unfortunately, Jackson’s recent surge hasn’t included many touchdowns. His last TD came against the Niners in Week 10, and he’s scored twice all season. Jackson and the Rams will be in Buffalo this weekend to face the Bills, who have allowed a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns. But Buffalo’s 30th-ranked run defense has been improving. As noted by Evan Silva of Rotoworld, the Bills have given up only 197 rushing yards and one rushing TD over their past three games and have held opponents to 2.8 yards per carry over that span.
10. Greg Jennings— Jennings returned to action for the Packers last week after missing seven games with a groin injury, but he wasn’t a major part of the Green Bay attack in his first game back, catching four passes for 46 yards in a win over the Vikings. Jennings could well be counted on for a greater contribution this week now that Jordy Nelson is likely to be out with a hamstring injury. With just 124 receiving yards and one TD this season, Jennings qualifies as one of the bigger flops of the fantasy season. But Jennings owners who remain alive may yet be able to get some utility out of the receiver if he can quickly reestablish chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. The Packers host a Sunday-night game against the Lions, who rank 18th against the pass and were just lit for nearly 400 passing yards by Andrew Luck and the Colts.
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