New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Photo: US Presswire)
As some of you head to the semifinals of your fantasy football playoffs, several studly performers on the season are turning into duds at the most inopportune time. On the flip side, those you may have put on the back burner are rising to the occasion.
QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Seven interceptions in his last three contests is un Brees-like, but a tilt versus the Bucs should remedy that in Week 15. Tampa Bay is allowing the third-most fantasy points to QBs in the past month (24.3 per game) on the back of 307 yards and 1.75 touchdowns. They're also allowing completions at a 67.3% clip. Brees will be airing it out, you can count on that.
RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: The loss of Dwayne Bowe (ribs) takes away Brady Quinn's best aerial weapon, leaving Charles as the only consistent playmaker in this pitiful offense. He's really all they have left, and with 100-plus yard games in four of his last five contests, the Chiefs will lean on him quite a bit. Oakland has given up the second-most fantasy points (22.3) to rushers in the last four weeks, too.
WR Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton may have some of his rookie mojo back after a drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons. He's also trusting his best receiver more; the speedy Smith has 21 targets, 229 yards and a score in the past two weeks. San Diego's loose secondary coverage should give him plenty of open space to exploit.
TE Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers: Having Big Ben back helps all of Pittsburgh's receiving threats, including Miller. His nine-target Week 14 was the most since Week 5. This could be a shootout against the Dallas Cowboys, and their injured linebacking unit will present nice opportunities for Miller down the seam.
WR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: Hilton is a boom-or-bust candidate, with weak performances sandwiched in between 100-yard outputs over his last six games. This week is leaning boom, though, with the Houston Texans secondary ripe for the picking. They're surrendering 13 grabs, 265 yards and 1.75 receiving TDs per contest since Week 11. Reggie Wayne may be blanketed by Johnathan Joseph all day, making Andrew Luck look Hilton's way more frequently.
RB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: A switch to a new offensive coordinator midweek could cause some havoc here, especially going up against the second-best defense over the past month in average points allowed to running backs (10.0). The Denver Broncos will be tested with more no-huddle, but QB Joe Flacco may be tempted to air it out more than usual if the Ravens fall behind early.
WR Victor Cruz, New York Giants: Expect the Atlanta Falcons to make some adjustments in the secondary to account for Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Aside from last week's thrashing by Carolina, they've been pretty solid in the last four weeks, allowing just 12.8 points to wideouts per game. Even more attention will be placed on stopping the pass if Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) is unable to play.
QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Despite a well-documented losing streak, the Arizona Cardinals have been tough on opposing QBs recently, and Stafford shouldn't be an exception. They'll force anyone not named Calvin Johnson beat them, and Detroit's new two-TE approach is also likely to struggle against a unit that has solved tight ends this year. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are in line for heavy workloads.
QB Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Pittsburgh's secondary was crossed up and confused in the absence of Ike Taylor last week. Still, even with a glitch in Week 14, they've been one of the top defenses against the pass in the last month. Romo could be losing his top target, Dez Bryant (finger), and even if he does play, he likely won't be his beastly self of late. Dallas' offensive line hasn't miraculously fixed itself, either.
TE Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons: Against a potent pass-rushing threat in the Giants, Gonzalez may be needed more for blocking than catching. The G-Men also defend tight ends well; they've allowed only 3.00 catches and 39.3 yards per game since Week 11.
Detroit Lions defense: It may be hard to call any defense a sleeper that faces off against Arizona these days, but the visiting Lions will be. It starts with the opposing quarterback, and the Cards don't have a solution. Arizona is turning the ball over more than twice per game and giving up almost four sacks per tilt.
RB Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: The Panthers haven't been able to stop any running attacks this year. They allow the sixth-most points to running backs per game this year (19.1). Carolina also yields the most receptions per contest (7.08), which is right up Mathews' alley.
WR Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs: With Bowe out, McCluster's opportunities to make more of an impact rise. QB Brady Quinn is a master of the check down, too, favoring McCluster even more in the short passing game.
TE Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts: The Texans linebackers are beaten up, making covering tight ends a rough task. (See Aaron Hernandez's performance on Monday night.) Fleener's similar athletic prowess should make him tough to cover in this intra-divisional matchup.
RB Joique Bell, Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz and the Lions coaching staff recognize that Bell needs to be involved more as a complement to Leshoure, and we're starting to see the results on the field. Bell nearly matched Leshoure's number of touches a week ago. The Cardinals' weakness in the past month is clearly on the ground, where they rank first in points allowed per contest to rushers (24.3) with averages of 32 attempts, 169 yards and 1.25 total scores.