Now that it's Week 14 of the NFL season, the playoffs have started in most fantasy leagues. That means it's do or die -- one loss and you're done. In that scenario, I'd avoid being "cute" when I set my starting lineup -- you're in the playoffs, play the guys who got you there. Trust me, you'll hate yourself much less if you lose by playing the guys who got you to the playoffs than you will if you lose by playing somebody you just claimed on waivers. That said, if you're hurting at a starting spot, or looking for an upside guy to stash on your bench, there are options out there, especially at running back and receiver.
Ken Dorsey, QB, Browns. For those of you wondering whether Dorsey is worth a waiver claim, the answer is an unequivocal "no."
J.P. Losman, QB, Bills. Losman is a better option than Dorsey, but just barely. He holds the ball too long, and sometimes it results in downfield connections, but more often it results in sacks and turnovers.
Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings. Did you see what LenDale White just did to the Lions? That's the role that Taylor will be playing this week. No, that doesn't mean he's a sure bet for 100 yards and two touchdowns. But out of all of the running backs in the NFL who are backups or on the short end of a timeshare, you're not likely to find a better option this week than Taylor. And if Adrian Peterson were to get hurt, Taylor would be a sure-fire fantasy starter regardless of the matchup.
Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys. If Marion Barber is out this week, the high-powered Cowboys' offense has nobody at running back except for Choice. Follow the updates on Barber's health this week, and go claim Choice in the meantime. He's a better handcuff right now than Fred Jackson or Lorenzo Booker, for example.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers. Jackson is similar to Choice in that he's a backup on a good offense whose starting running back is nicked up. But unlike Choice, Jackson is good enough that he can steal carries from Ryan Grant even if Grant is healthy. If I had to decide right now, I'd take Choice over Jackson for this week, simply on the chance that Barber sits. But beyond this week, or if Barber is healthy, Jackson is the better guy to own.
Domenik Hixon, WR, and Amani Toomer, WR, Giants. It seems like you can't read a sports article nowadays without reading the words "Plaxico" and "gunshot." Burress' legal problems have made Hixon and Toomer starter-worthy in most fantasy formats. If you're skeptical on Hixon, look at his stats from the two games that Burress was inactive -- nine catches, 172 yards, and a touchdown.
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Mark Clayton, WR, Ravens. Clayton had a long touchdown reception against the Browns in Week 9 and most fantasy analysts considered it a fluke. Clayton was pretty quiet the next two weeks, validating those suspicions. But since then, Clayton has had two more big games, including last week's "wow" line of 164 yards receiving, 32 yards passing, and two total touchdowns. The passing stats likely won't happen again, but it's time to stop dismissing Clayton's receiving stats as a fluke. With an emerging, strong-armed quarterback finding him on deep routes, Clayton has become fantasy-worthy. Like any deep threat, Clayton will be inconsistent -- that's what happens when your fantasy value is predicated on scoring touchdowns on deep passes -- it's hit or miss. But if you're in the fantasy playoffs, are facing a team that is better than yours, and you need to take a risk in the hopes of hitting a home run, take a look at Clayton. If I were a big underdog, I'd rather take a risk like that, and go down swinging, before I played a possession receiver with no upside (e.g. Josh Reed).
Deion Branch, WR, Seahawks. It's hard to be enamored with any Seattle receivers given how their offense has been playing. That said, Branch was targeted 11 times last week, and Matt Hasselbeck will be throwing a lot again this week against the Patriots. The following week, Seattle gets the Rams, one of the worst defenses in the league. This is far from a ringing endorsement, but I do expect Branch to score a touchdown in one of the next two games.
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John Carney, K, Giants. Carney leads the NFL in points, yet he's available on waivers in a lot of leagues. Sounds odd, but that's what happens when a team has two kickers on its roster. Lawrence Tynes is still on the team, and Tom Coughlin is supposedly deciding who kicks on a week-to-week basis. I say "supposedly," though, because it seems clear to me that Carney is the Giants' kicker; Tynes is an option only if the weather is really bad. This week, in Philadelphia, weather may or may not be an issue, but with a 1 p.m. start time, all you have to do is check to see if Tynes is inactive, which I think he will be. If he is, then start Carney with confidence.