For many, the fantasy playoffs begin in Week 14. For those teams, attacking free agency in a rash manner is not the wisest plan. A shrewd dissection of the waiver wire crop is in order, as those teams look to plug any remaining holes. From my vantage point, here's a look at the free agents that are likely to make the biggest impact in the fantasy postseason:
Kerry Collins, Oak – 27-for-41, 343 yards, 3 TD's, 0 INT's
In the past three weeks, only Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb have been better fantasy QB's than Collins. This is a somewhat surprising development for those who suffered through the misery of Collins' first three starts of the season, in which he combined for just one TD pass and seven INT's. But Collins has steadily turned things around since then, and has nine TD passes to just two INT's in the past three weeks. For those following Collins' career, he's known for his solid play in December, which has secured a role for him the following season on many occasions. Fantasy owners who can still get in on Collins should add him if not only for a Week 16 matchup with Kansas City, the team he riddled on Sunday for 343 yards and three TD's.
Carson Palmer, Cin – 29-for-36, 382 yards, 3 TD's, 1 INT
Palmer has produced nine TD passes in his past three games despite facing (in order) the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, three of the top pass defenses in the league. So, while Palmer does have tough dates with New England and Buffalo in the next two weeks, he has shown that he can still be productive. Palmer's worth adding as bench insurance during the playoff weeks for those lacking QB depth.
Brian Griese, TB – 13-for-21, 131 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Despite a rather sub-par fantasy performance on Sunday, Griese still warrants fantasy consideration for those who rotate QB starters based upon matchups. Griese has a big-time opportunity to shine in Week 15 when Tampa Bay hosts New Orleans, a team that has allowed opposing starting quarterbacks an average of 296 passing yards in its past seven games. The Saints have also yielded a woeful 17 TD passes during that span. In Griese's first appearance of the season back in Week 5, he completed 16-of-19 passes with one TD in three quarters of play against the Saints. Despite having thrown nine TD passes in his past five games, Griese is available in roughly half of Yahoo! default leagues.
Larry Johnson, KC – 20 carries, 118 rushing yards, 56 receiving yards, 2 TD's
A hard hit forced Derrick Blaylock to leave Sunday's game early with a neck injury. That allowed backup Larry Johnson an opportunity to shine. Blaylock is expected to return for a Week 14 Monday night contest with Tennessee, but Johnson can't be ignored after his staring role in Week 13. While Johnson will return to playing backup to Blaylock, you can figure that these two backs are liable to spilt the time evenly from here on out, as it is very possible that we've seen the last of Priest Holmes this season. While Johnson may seem a scary proposition, fantasy owners should remember that Kansas City is a team that has the most rushing touchdowns and the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL. A half a game from Johnson is likely to be worth more than a full game from any of a handful of featured backs.
Chester Taylor, Bal – 23 carries, 139 yards, 1 TD
The New York Giants are struggling against the run, as evidenced by Washington RB Clinton Portis' 148-yard, 2 TD performance against them in Week 13. That means Taylor should be a fairly solid play when his team hosts the Giants this Sunday, assuming Jamal Lewis cannot return from his ankle injury (a likely scenario). With OL Jonathan Ogden clearing his way, Taylor rolled up 139 yards and a TD on Sunday. He's a solid play in any game that he's expected to start, as Baltimore has long been one of the league's better rushing offenses.
Larry Croom, Ari – 18 carries, 48 yards
While Croom produced pedestrian numbers in his NFL starting debut in Week 13, he's likely to fare much better in his follow-up effort this coming Sunday. With Emmitt Smith unlikely to return from a toe injury, Croom would get another starting opportunity, this time against a San Francisco defense that ranks 29th in the league with 15 rushing TD's allowed. Croom is only an option for those fantasy owners that, for whatever reasons, have bare running back cupboards.
Arlen Harris, StL – Backup to Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson
Harris is a potential get-rich quick option for Week 14. With Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson both expected to be listed as questionable for Sunday, Harris would get a starting nod if neither can play. And Harris would face a Carolina defense that has been one of the worst in the NFL at limiting opposing RB's fantasy points. Admittedly, Carolina has been much improved against the run in the past few weeks, but you simply can't ignore the fact that it has allowed the second-most rushing TD's in the league (15). Stay closely tuned to this situation.
Drew Bennett, Ten – 3 catches, 124 yards, 3 TD's
As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." By that, I'm referring to the fact that Bennett has graced the past three Waiver Report columns, yet he still remains widely available in Yahoo! leagues. His three-TD performance on Sunday will rectify that oversight. Bennett remains a tall, sure-handed option in the red zone. And he will continue to face one of the softest schedules for a wide receiver down the stretch.
Antonio Bryant, Cle – 7 catches, 115 yards, 2 TD's
As far as physical talents go, you couldn't ask for much more than Bryant. He has size, strength and good football speed. And he's finally getting to put those skills to use in a meaningful capacity as a member of the Cleveland Browns. In the past two weeks, Bryant has combined for 15 catches, 246 yards and four TD's. So long as Jeff Garcia is out – Garcia has an aversion to throwing the ball to his wide receivers – Bryant is a must pickup. His upside is such that he could play a valuable role in fantasy playoff weeks.
Lee Evans, Buf – 4 catches, 110 yards, 2 TD's
Evans has three touchdowns and 180 yards combined in his past two contests. It is the best two-week stretch of his rookie season, which has been equal parts hit and miss. Evans has the kind of deep-threat speed that you can't ignore. He has the potential to break a long one at any time. To see him produce his best fantasy games of the season in back-to-back weeks should be encouraging for fantasy owners. He is a high-reward play for fantasy owners with receiver needs. And the down-side risk seems to be getting less and less each week.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cin – 10 catches, 171 yards, 1 TD
With Houshmandzadeh's monster effort on Sunday, he now has 14 catches, 250 yards and three TD's in his past two games. Fantasy owners will need to take Houshmandzadeh seriously now that he is being targeted in the red zone – two of his three TD's came from within 10 yards. The former Oregon State product had been teasing owners with an occasional decent yardage performance, but these latest TD's are his only scores of the season. With his latest success, Houshmanzadeh merits at least a bench spot on fantasy rosters.
Eddie Kennison, KC – 8 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD
On Sunday, Kennison reached 99-plus reciving yards for the fourth time in five games. His one down week during that stretch was his nine-yard performance in Week 12. Despite laying that egg, he has the the fourth-most receiving yards among wideouts since Week 9. If you can get your hands on Kennison, he's an attractive play this week against a confidence-rocked Tennesssee secondary that allowed a combined 355 yards in Week 13 to Indy receivers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley.