Note: Sleeper alert focuses on players who aren't considered regular starters but have favorable matchups and could produce at a high level. Owners beware focuses on prominent players with unfavorable matchups who could fail to meet statistical expectations.
START OF THE WEEK
Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: Taylor has been on fire of late with a combined 66 points on NFL.com over the past four weeks. His success should continue this week against Oakland, which fields one of the NFL's worst run defenses. The Silver and Black rank 31st against the run and have allowed 21 rushing touchdowns, which is the most in the entire league. The Raiders have also allowed an average of 184.4 rushing yards per game on the road, most in the NFL, so Taylor should post another solid stat line.
QUARTERBACKS: START 'EM
Derek Anderson, Cleveland: The last time Anderson faced the Cincinnati Bengals, he threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-45 Week 2 win. While he won't duplicate such totals, the super sleeper should still make some noise this weekend against his NFC North opponent. The Bengals rank 24th against the pass and have surrendered 25 passing touchdowns (tied for fourth-most in the NFL), so Anderson's matchup is attractive indeed. The one issue here could be the weather, so be sure to check the forecast in the Cincinnati area before a final decision is made.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle: Hasselbeck posted a decent stat line in a loss to Carolina, but he should explode this weekend against Baltimore. The Ravens are without CB Chris McAlister, and CB Samari Rolle and FS Ed Reed are less than 100 percent. Those injuries were part of the reason Cleo Lemon threw for 315 yards against them in a 22-16 win, so Hasselbeck should find some success in the pass attack. The Seahawks need this contest for postseason position, and it seems like the Ravens have rolled over, all of which makes Hasselbeck a tremendous option.
Sleeper alert: Vince Young vs. N.Y. Jets.
QUARTERBACKS: SIT 'EM
Marc Bulger, St. Louis: Bulger returned from a concussion last week and threw for 219 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to Green Bay. He'll have a hard time finding even that level of statistical "success" against Pittsburgh on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NFL Network). The Steelers rank third against the pass and will look to reverse their recent fortunes after a loss to Jacksonville, so expect coach Mike Tomlin to be aggressive in his pass rush against a patchwork Rams offensive line. Unless you're desperate, Bulger should be left on the fantasy sidelines.
Eli Manning, Buffalo: Manning has a decent matchup on paper against a Buffalo defense that ranks 28th against the pass, but it's impossible to trust him in this vital part of the fantasy postseason. Peyton's little brother has thrown six touchdown passes in his past seven starts, and he's now failed to throw for multiple scores since Week 7. Manning, whose numbers seem to wither once the winter months arrive, should be considered no more than a desperation fantasy starter or a No. 2 option in leagues that require two active quarterbacks.
More quarterbacks with unfavorable matchups: Brett Favre at Chicago, David Garrard vs. Oakland, Shaun Hill vs. Tampa Bay, Cleo Lemon at New England, Chad Pennington at Tennessee.
Owners beware: Jon Kitna vs. Kansas City.
RUNNING BACKS: START 'EM
Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay: One of the best waiver-wire treasures of the entire season, Graham has found the end zone in six consecutive contests for the Buccaneers. The once little-known back has a golden matchup this weekend against San Francisco, so chances are he'll add to his immense level of production. The Niners rank 23rd against the run, so the Bucs will look to establish the run with their newfound offensive monster. Regardless of the matchup, Graham should be considered a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy back and be active in most formats.
More running backs with favorable matchups: Ryan Grant at Chicago, Edgerrin James vs. Atlanta, Jamal Lewis at Cincinnati, Willie Parker at St. Louis, LenDale White vs. N.Y. Jets.
Sleeper alert: Kenny Watson vs. Cleveland.
RUNNING BACKS: SIT 'EM
Clinton Portis, Washington: Portis led countless owners to a championship game berth with 126 rushing yards and one touchdown in Sunday night's win over the New York Giants, but his numbers are destined to fall hard this weekend in Minnesota. The Vikes, who rank first in the league against the run, have allowed six rushing touchdowns (tied for third-fewest in the NFL), and their defense has allowed 51.7 rushing yards per game at home. Portis remains a viable No. 2 fantasy runner or flex starter, but don't be at all shocked if his final stat line is something less than attractive.
Travis Henry, Denver: Henry has found the end zone three times in his past three contests, but it's been Selvin Young, not Henry, who has been the starter and seen the lion's share of the carries. Reports out of Denver indicate Young will continue to be featured more in the offense than Henry, who remains at less than 100 percent with a sore knee. The veteran out of Tennessee remains a viable flex starter in leagues with 12-plus teams against an inconsistent San Diego run defense, but he's still a serious risk at this crucial point in the fantasy season.
More running backs with unfavorable matchups: Shaun Alexander vs. Baltimore, DeShaun Foster vs. Dallas, Frank Gore vs. Tampa Bay, Thomas Jones at Tennessee, Chester Taylor vs. Washington.
Owners beware: Willis McGahee at Seattle.
WIDE RECEIVERS: START 'EM
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona: Despite the fact that he has missed two games due to injuries, Fitzgerald has still recorded 83 receptions for 1,166 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He should build on those numbers against Atlanta, a team in dire straits that fields a defense that has allowed 37, 34, 28, 31, and 31 points to their past five opponents. The Falcons rank 12th against the pass but have allowed 21 receiving touchdowns (tied for ninth-most in the NFL), so look for Fitzgerald to be on the end of at least one Kurt Warner touchdown toss in this NFC contest.
Chad Johnson, Cincinnati: Johnson's level of inconsistent production this season had been enough to make fantasy footballers nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake. Ocho Cinco has recorded double-digit point totals in five contests all season, and he's averaged a mere 6.2 points on NFL.com in his other nine starts. Still, it's hard not to like him this weekend against a Cleveland defense that he lit up for 209 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2. The Browns are tied with Detroit for the most receiving touchdowns allowed (27), so Johnson could be a championship week hero.
Sleeper alert: Kevin Curtis at New Orleans.
WIDE RECEIVERS: SIT 'EM
Donald Driver, Green Bay: Driver has been the wide receiver version of Willie Parker this season. His yardage totals are solid, but he's been a real end-zone pariah. The veteran hasn't found the end zone since Week 3, and his career visits to the promised land against this week's opponent, the Chicago Bears, have been limited. In fact, Driver has scored once in his past nine contests against them. The Bears have also allowed only 16 receiving scores (tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL), so Driver could fail to meet statistical expectations in this NFC North battle.
Laveranues Coles, N.Y. Jets: Coles returned from a high ankle sprain last week, but he was is so much discomfort that he had to shut it down for much of the New England contest. In fact, there have been reports that the Jets might even put Coles on injured reserve because of the ailment. Regardless of whether or not he's active when the Jets face Tennessee, Coles should be considered a last-resort option. The Titans rank ninth against the pass, but the fact that Coles is at far less than 100 percent makes him an unstartable wide receiver in the fantasy championship week.
More wide receivers with unfavorable matchups: Bernard Berrian vs. Green Bay, Calvin Johnson vs. Kansas City, Derrick Mason at Seattle, Darrell Jackson vs. Tampa Bay, Reggie Williams vs. Oakland.
Owners beware: Steve Smith vs. Dallas.
TIGHT ENDS: START 'EM
Jason Witten, Dallas: Witten has passed Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow and become the No. 1 tight end in fantasy football. He has recorded a combined 28 fantasy points in standard formats over the past two weeks with a total of 251 yards and one touchdown. With 23 catches over that stretch, Witten has been even more productive in leagues that reward points for receptions. His success should continue on Saturday night against a Carolina defense that has allowed 11 receiving touchdowns in its past five contests.
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis: Clark was a fantasy footballer's dream in Week 13 with 60 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Jacksonville, but his combined two catches and no scores since have turned owners against him. However, the Iowa product should still remain active in most formats against Houston, which ranks 18th against the pass and has allowed 18 receiving touchdowns. The Texans have also been vulnerable to tight ends all season, as the position has averaged close to five catches per game against them.
Sleeper alert: Tony Scheffler at San Diego.
TIGHT ENDS: SIT 'EM
Benjamin Watson, New England: Watson was a touchdown machine earlier in the season, but his visits to the end zone have been few and far between in recent weeks. In fact, the Georgia product has failed to score in five of his past six contests. Watson also missed last week's win over the Jets, so he could be limited when the Patriots face Miami at Gillette Stadium. Regardless of his status, Watson has been far too inconsistent to use in fantasy football championships. If you've leaned on him this long, it's time to find a healthier alternative.
Alge Crumpler, Atlanta: Crumpler has been one of the biggest disappointments at the tight end position. He failed to record even one reception in last week's blowout loss to Tampa Bay, and he's averaged a mere 27 yards with one touchdown in his past six games. His luck doesn't look likely to improve this weekend, as he faces a Tampa Bay defense that is ranked second against the pass and has allowed an average of just 30.8 yards per game to tight ends. In what has been a lost season in Atlanta, fantasy footballers should lose the notion that Crumpler can help them win a title.
Owners beware: Vernon Davis vs. Tampa Bay.
KICKERS: START 'EM
Josh Brown, Seattle: Brown has been a bit inconsistent in recent weeks with one double-digit performance in his past four contests, but this weekend's matchup against an injury-riddled Baltimore defense is favorable. The Ravens could be out several starters this weekend, which hurts the effectiveness a unit that has surrendered a league-high 35 field goal. Unless the weather becomes a serious issue in the Seattle area, Brown, who ranks 10th in points among kickers on NFL.com, should be considered a very attractive fantasy option in larger formats.
Phil Dawson, Cleveland: Dawson doesn't receive much respect in fantasy football circles, but he's been a top-10 kicker on NFL.com, averaging 9.4 points in his past five starts. One of his most productive stat lines came in Week 2, when he scored 15 points in a win over this weekend's opponent, Cincinnati. The Bengals have an atrocious defense, so the Browns should be able to move the football unless the weather becomes an issue. Again, watch the forecast in the area, but Dawson looks like a nice championship-week option in leagues with 12-plus teams.
Sleeper alert: Jason Hanson vs. Kansas City.
KICKERS: SIT 'EM
Kris Brown, Houston: Brown has been a top-10 kicker on NFL.com this season, but he's had double-digit fantasy points in just one of his past four starts and two of his past nine. This weekend he'll head to Indianapolis to face a Colts defense that is tied with New England for the second-fewest field goals allowed. Brown has done little in his career against the Colts (five goals in his past seven starts). The fact that this contest is in a dome is an advantage, but that's the lone advantage Brown has this week.
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland: Janikowski was a solid option earlier this season. However, his overall numbers have fallen hard in recent weeks. The Florida State product has averaged 1.5 points on NFL.com in his past two starts, and this week he'll face a hardened Jacksonville defense that is nearly impenetrable on its home field. The Jaguars have also allowed just 17 field goals (tied for seventh-fewest in the NFL), so don't look for Janikowski to produce solid numbers.
Owners beware: Jason Elam at San Diego.
DEFENSES: START 'EM
Tampa Bay defense: The Buccaneers went off for 37 points on NFL.com last week, and now they'll face a San Francisco offense that will start No. 3 quarterback Shaun Hill. That bodes well for Monte Kiffin's crew, which will look to blitz and pressure the inexperienced signal-caller the entire afternoon.
Minnesota defense: The Vikings have averaged 23 points on NFL.com over the past four weeks and have been one of the better defenses in fantasy football all season. With a matchup against Washington and No. 2 quarterback Todd Collins next on the slate, the Purple People Eaters should devour another opponent.
More defenses with favorable matchups: Dallas defense at Carolina, Green Bay defense at Chicago, New England defense vs. Miami, Seattle defense vs. Baltimore.
Sleeper alert: Arizona defense vs. Atlanta.
DEFENSES: SIT 'EM
Carolina defense: The Panthers did hold down a productive Seattle offense last week, but now they're faced with a Dallas team motivated to put a bad loss to the Philadelphia Eagles behind them. Unless Tony Romo is limited in the contest, look for the Cowboys to bounce back and make the Carolina fans blue for Christmas.
Chicago defense: The Bears have been one of the more inconsistent defensive units in fantasy football this season, and this week's matchup against Green Bay isn't attractive. Brett Favre and the Packers have their offense in high gear, so don't expect the Bears to produce unless the weather becomes a factor.
More defenses with unfavorable matchups: Denver defense at San Diego, Houston defense at Indianapolis, Miami defense at New England, Philadelphia defense at New Orleans.
Owners beware: Baltimore defense at Seattle.