Welcome, everybody, to the stretch run. It's where the pretenders usually flame out and the contenders surge into the playoffs, hoping to claim bragging rights for an entire off-season.
This is the point of the fantasy football season, though, that some of you "pretenders" can become contenders if you are paying attention.
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There are some players out there who don't have the name recognition of an Aaron Rodgers, a Drew Brees or an Arian Foster who may just carry you to the promised land. The key is having the foresight to either acquire them off the waiver wire, trade for them -- or if you own them, to actually play them!
This column is dedicated to this group of guys you should seriously consider giving a permanent home to in your starting lineup.
Josh Freeman: The Bucs' signal-caller is No. 1 among quarterbacks in fantasy points the past three weeks (8 TD passes, 309.7 passing yards per game). He's actually ninth among QBs for the whole season and has a schedule that includes the Saints in Week 15 and Rams in Week 16.
Carson Palmer: Darren McFadden's out with a high ankle sprain, which means it will be a huge air show in Oakland for the foreseeable future. Palmer has the third-most fantasy points the last three weeks with 8 TDs and 307 yards per game. His next four games (at Ravens, vs. Saints, at Bengals, vs. Browns) are particularly appetizing.
Andrew Luck: Get this: Four of the next five defenses Luck will see all rank 24th or worse against the pass. (Detroit in Week 13 is the lone exception). Luck currently ranks 10th in fantasy points among QBs, and my guess is he'll rise to fifth or sixth after he rips through this sweet schedule.
Chris Johnson: Johnson was worthless in four of the first five games but has exploded since Week 6. Except for a Week 13 meeting against Houston, Johnson should continue to post solid numbers.
Randall Cobb: Since Week 5, only Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Vincent Jackson and Eric Decker have averaged more fantasy points per game than Cobb. Aaron Rodgers loves his second-year receiver and he's quickly become a must start.
Titus Young: To this point, my preseason sleeper pick has mostly been a perplexing pile of junk. Nate Burleson's season-ending injury has opened the door for Young, though, and he stepped through it in Week 9 to the tune of 9 catches, 100 yards and 2 TDs. Of course, last Sunday he pulled a disappearing act, so what do you do? I say roll the dice and play him as your third wideout. More often than not Young will post solid numbers down the stretch.
Brandon Myers: Here's an almost completely unknown player who actually has 39 receptions for 442 yards. The reason he hasn't appeared on the fantasy radar, though, is because he hadn't found the end zone until last week. Watch for a strong finish as Oakland opens things up in the passing game.
Owen Daniels: Third. Let me repeat that -- third. That's where Owen Daniels ranks among fantasy TEs on the season. His overall numbers (37-478) are no better than Oakland's Myers, but he has found the end zone on a consistent basis. If you're muddling along with the likes of Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew or Jason Witten, it's time to consider Daniels or Myers as replacements.
Next column: An extensive look at rookies drafted in the first 45 picks of the last three NFL drafts.
My teams: Doug Martin. That's all that really needs to be said. The Bucs' RB destroyed me in both leagues, helping make my playoff hopes more and more unlikely.
•Lions QB Matthews Stafford and WR Titus Young at Minnesota. Seattle's Russell Wilson just threw 3 TD passes against the Vikings. Stafford's in for a huge week.
•Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Brian Hartline vs. Tennessee. You'd have to be pretty desperate to play the 30th-ranked fantasy quarterback, but if you are an Aaron Rodgers or RG3 owner in a bind, I like Tannehill to throw for 240 yards and 2 TDs.
•Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at New England. The last three times Fitzpatrick has faced the Patriots, he has gone over 300 yards and has 8 total TDs.
•Falcons RB Michael Turner at New Orleans. The Burner is doing a slow burn to fantasy irrelevance, but I like him better than Matt Forte, a gimpy Jamaal Charles or Shonn Greene this week.
•Titans WR Kenny Britt at Miami. Matt Hasselbeck is clearly looking for Britt more. My gut says he scores against the Dolphins.
•Bucs QB Josh Freeman vs. San Diego. Just in case you skipped the intro to the column.
•Chargers QB Philip Rivers and WR Michael Floyd at Tampa Bay. No team gives up more passing yards than the Bucs, who surrendered a whopping 414 last week to Carson Palmer.
•Raiders RB Taiwan Jones at Baltimore. With Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson likely out, Jones makes for a good flex play. Those of you in PPR leagues should strongly consider Marcel Reece.
•Steelers RB Isaac Redman vs. Kansas City. With Jonathan Dwyer slated to return, Redman's more of a flex play. But he could be a good one against a wretched Chiefs squad.
•Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe and RB Jamaal Charles at Pittsburgh. It's becoming increasingly difficult to start anyone on a team that can't find the end zone. Kansas City has just 3 touchdowns over the last four games!
•Eagles QB Michael Vick and WR Jeremy Maclin vs. Dallas. Only the Steelers and Ravens have allowed fewer passing scores than the Cowboys' 7.
•Panthers QB and WR Steve Smith vs. Denver. I'm going to keep hammering the point home about how good the Broncos' defense has become -- over the last 10 quarters, they've allowed just 3 passing scores.
•Bears RB Matt Forte vs. Houston. Many of you may not have great alternatives to Forte, but I'm just warning you that 7-9 points is about all you can expect Sunday night.
•Jets RB Shonn Greene at Seattle. Adrian Peterson (182 yards, 2 TDs) just gashed the Seahawks, but they had only allowed 3 rushing scores before AP arrived.