For some owners the end of the playoffs is a satisfying culmination of a season's worth of good drafting, smart maneuvering and a little bit of luck. For other, less fortunate owners, this time of the season means countless nights studying the free agent pool, reading more advice columns than is humanely tolerable and scraping along week-by-week. Those are the owners that I'm speaking to this week. If you've found yourself feeling like MacGyver trying to turn waiver wire remains into a workable lineup, I've got you covered. We'll be taking a look at some players who have been floating just along the fringe of startability who are ready to shine for a final time. And don't fret, deep league/incredibly desperate owners, I've also identified a deep sleeper at each position that you may find some use in. Without further ado, let's do some tiering.
Drew Brees @ DetroitKurt Warner @ New EnglandPeyton Manning @ JacksonvilleJay Cutler vs. BuffaloMatt Schaub @ Oakland|}Aaron Rodgers @ ChicagoTony Romo vs. BaltimoreMatt Cassel vs. ArizonaDonovan McNabb @ WashingtonBen Roethlisberger @ Tennessee|Brett Favre @ SeattleChad Pennington @ Kansas City
Philip Rivers @ Tampa BayTyler Thigpen vs. MiamiDan Orlovsky vs. New OrleansEli Manning vs. CarolinaDavid Garrard vs. IndianapolisMatt Ryan @ MinnesotaShaun Hill @ St. LouisJeff Garcia vs. San DiegoSeneca Wallace vs. New York JetsJ.P. Losman/Trent Edwards @ Denver
Jake Delhomme @ New York GiantsJoe Flacco @ DallasKyle Orton vs. Green BayJason Campbell vs. PhiladelphiaTarvaris Jackson vs. AtlantaKerry Collins vs. PittsburghJaMarcus Russell vs. HoustonRyan Fitzpatrick @ ClevelandKen Dorsey vs. Cincinnati
On the fringe:
Ben Roethlisberger: It's true, "Big Ben" took a giant steaming Roethlisberger all over fantasy owners this year. Drafted as a top-5 QB based on his outstanding 32-touchdown campaign in 2007, the burly Steeler hasn't even halved that number this season, and he's been under 15 fantasy points in nine out of 14 games.
Like Jennifer Lopez or a drunken Matt Damon, all you want is to wash the "stink of Ben" off your body, and forget that the two of you were ever involved. I understand that sentiment, but it's not the wisest choice to make this week.
The Titans have suffered more injuries than a boozed up fat kid at Ozzfest -- they'll be missing Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch to go along with a depleted secondary -- and they've already wrapped up a first round bye. Their only objective right now is to get healthy (home-field advantage be damned), making it a perfect setting for Roethlisberger to salvage his reputation in the fantasy community by tossing for multi-touchdowns and then sending personalized apology notes to all owners who drafted him in the fifth round or higher (as you can tell, I'm not the least bit bitter about the heaping pile of Poo-Stew that Ben served up this year).
Chad Pennington: Hardly an inspiring choice, but he's the smart play if you're facing the prospect of starting someone like Thigpen, Rivers, Garrard or Garcia this week. He's not going to bring you negative points by turning the ball over -- he's thrown six touchdowns with one interception over the last month -- and he's visiting Kansas City, where the Chiefs have been inexplicably worse than on the road. They're giving up just over 30 points a game while at home and only 24 when they're away from Arrowhead. Don't expect huge yardage numbers from the weak-armed Pennington, but two bills and two scores are a near certainty. I don't know about you, but I could sure use 20 fantasy points out of my QB position this week.
Brett Favre: Favre reminds me of the Doc Holliday character toward the end of Tombstone. Both are aging gunslingers with deteriorating skills, barely holding onto their last grasp of respectability after being written off as incapable. But you know that Favre, like Holliday, still has a little something left in him. He still has the skill to do some damage in one final, good old-fashioned gunfight. He's just been waiting for a time when the Jets absolutely need it. Like this week, with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance and the sloppy Seahawks secondary as the opposition. To all you Favre owners out there, this is your last shot to celebrate in the splendor that is "Favre." Don't waste it by leaving him dying on your bench.
Dan Orlovsky: OK, you can stop laughing now. Seriously, are you done? I'll admit, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Orlovsky is the sight of a grown man, shrieking like a woman, being chased out the back of the end zone by Jared Allen, but that's unfair. "Dan in Real Life" was actually pretty decent after his public flogging, throwing for an average of 260 yards with four scores in his three games as a starter. Last week he put up 233 yards and a touchdown against a tough Indianapolis secondary, and he smartly targets Calvin Johnson more than any other Detroit QB (Johnson's two highest reception totals have come with Orlovsky throwing the passes).
After watching New Orleans struggle mightily to contain Devin Hester, it's pretty obvious that a physical freak like Johnson will have no trouble getting open, and Orlovsky will have no problem flinging the ball repeatedly in his direction. I'll go out on a limb and call him the end-of-the-year equivalent of Tyler Thigpen.
AdrianPeterson vs. AtlantaMaurice Jones-Drew vs. IndianapolisPierre Thomas @ DetroitThomas Jones @ SeattleMarshawn Lynch @ DenverSteven Jackson vs. San FranciscoMatt Forte vs. Green BaySteve Slaton @ OaklandDeAngelo Williams @ New York GiantsMichael Turner @ MinnesotaBrian Westbrook @ WashingtonLaDainian Tomlinson @ Tampa BayWillie Parker @ TennesseeKevin Smith vs. New OrleansLarry Johnson vs. MiamiRonnie Brown @ Kansas CityClinton Portis vs. PhiladelphiaReggie Bush @ Detroit
Chris Johnson vs. PittsburghLenDale White vs. PittsburghRyan Grant @ ChicagoFrank Gore @ St. LouisTashard Choice vs. BaltimoreMarion Barber III vs. BaltimoreBrandon Jacobs vs. CarolinaJustin Fargas vs. HoustonDarren McFadden vs. HoustonLeon Washington @ SeattleKevin Faulk vs. ArizonaJonathan Stewart @ New York GiantsLe'Ron McClain @ DallasWarrick Dunn vs. San DiegoCedric Benson @ ClevelandP.J. Pope vs. BuffaloCarnell Williams vs. San DiegoDominic Rhodes @ JacksonvilleSammy Morris vs. ArizonaRicky Williams @ Kansas CityFred Jackson @ DenverDerrick Ward vs. CarolinaTim Hightower @ New England
Jamal Lewis vs. CincinnatiDeShaun Foster @ St. LouisRay Rice @ DallasWillis McGahee @ DallasMaurice Morris vs. New York JetsJoseph Addai @ JacksonvilleJ.J. Arrington @ New EnglandSelvin Young vs. BuffaloLamont Jordan vs. ArizonaMewelde Moore @ TennesseeChester Taylor vs. AtlantaJerious Norwood @ MinnesotaJulius Jones vs. New York Jets
On the fringe:
Tashard Choice: After witnessing Barber stumble his way to two yards on eight carries, I think we're all in agreement that he's not 100 percent healthy, right? He may see some action against the Ravens, but it's Choice who makes the intriguing play. Baltimore is an aggressive, pursuing defense that can be neutralized by the Cowboys' aggressive passing attack. With the Ravens on their heels just a bit, it'll give Choice plenty of opportunities to find room on draw plays and screen passes. He's accumulated 309 offensive yards over the past two weeks against such defensive behemoths as the Steelers and the Giants, so don't let Ed Reed and "Ray-Ray" scare you off.
Darren McFadden: OK, so I haven't exactly been shy about tooting the McFadden horn once every few weeks, and I sincerely apologize for my misguided belief that at some point Tom Cable would demonstrate semi-competent behavior. So far, despite averaging nearly six yards a touch over the past month and clearly proving to be the Raiders most explosive option, "Unable Cable" has been unwilling to provide any kind of stable workload for McFadden. So why would he start now? I don't know, maybe because even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes? Or maybe because it's the obvious thing to do. Maybe it'll happen just because I'm squeezing my eyes really tight and wishing upon my Al Davis booblehead that it will. Whatever the reason, McFadden is long overdue for a dominating performance, and Houston makes the perfect welcome mat for him to wipe his (hopefully) properly used shoes on.
Kevin Faulk: So the most consistent fantasy producer in the New England backfield is a 32-year-old career third-down back that started the season on the suspended list? In a Belichickian sort of way, that actually makes perfect sense. Faulk has topped 80-plus total yards in six of his last eight games, and ranks second among all running backs in both catches and receiving yards. As a flex or RB3 play, it doesn't get much Faulking better than plugging in the Patriots utility guy and watching him craftily contribute nothing but positives.
P.J. Pope: Pope became the sixth Broncos running back to lead the team in rushing with his 51-yard effort this past Sunday. He was also involved prominently on passing downs and scored a receiving touchdown. The only thing I know about Pope is that he was pretty dominant in NCAA Football '06 running the option with Omar Jacobs, and that he's been on three teams in three years. Other than that, all I can tell you is that he's got a real shot at becoming the Broncos best fantasy back over the next two weeks. In my book, that still counts for something.
Calvin Johnson vs. New OrleansAnquan Boldin @ New EnglandLarry Fitzgerald @ New EnglandRandy Moss vs. ArizonaRoddy White @ MinnesotaSteve Smith @ New York GiantsMarques Colston @ DetroitWes Welker vs. ArizonaBrandon Marshall vs. BuffaloAndre Johnson @ OaklandReggie Wayne @ JacksonvilleGreg Jennings @ ChicagoTerrell Owens vs. BaltimoreT.J. Houshmandzadeh @ ClevelandAntonio Bryant vs. San DiegoSteve Breaston @ New EnglandBraylon Edwards vs. CincinnatiLance Moore @ DetroitDwayne Bowe vs. Miami
Bernard Berrian vs. AtlantaLee Evans @ DenverSantonio Holmes @ TennesseeDerrick Mason @ DallasSantana Moss vs. PhiladelphiaHines Ward @ TennesseeDonald Driver @ ChicagoDeSean Jackson @ WashingtonEddie Royal vs. BuffaloJerricho Cotchery @ SeattleLaveranues Coles @ SeattleKevin Walter @ OaklandDomenik Hixon vs. CarolinaIsaac Bruce @ St. LouisTedd Ginn Jr. @ Kansas CityVincent Jackson @ Tampa BayMarvin Harrison @ JacksonvilleDeion Branch vs. New York JetsChad Johnson @ ClevelandDevin Hester vs. Green BayDennis Northcutt vs. IndianapolisTorry Holt vs. San FranciscoMichael Jenkins @ MinnesotaJosh Cribbs vs. Cincinnati
Kevin Curtis @ WashingtonDavonne Bess @ Kansas CityDonnie Avery vs. San FranciscoRoy Williams vs. BaltimoreAmani Toomer vs. CarolinaMuhsin Muhammad @ New York GiantsJosh Reed @ DenverJustin Gage vs. PittsburghMark Bradley vs. MiamiMalcom Floyd @ Tampa bayChris Chambers @ Tampa BayAnthony Gonzalez @ JacksonvilleAntwaan Randle El vs. Philadelphia
On the fringe:
Steve Breaston: Listen, I hate to keep belaboring the Patriots defense, I really do, but the fact is they let Seneca Wallace and Deion Branch have a field day two weeks ago, and last Sunday were unable to contain the JaMarcus Russell to Johnny Lee Higgins connection. Ummmm, so what happens when the Cardinals' top -anked passing offense gets a shot at them? Let's just say that Tim Hightower's name won't be called very often. With Boldin and Fitzgerald garnering most of the defenses attention, Breaston will find himself in man-to-man coverage against Deltha "I was cut by the Bengals" O'Neal. That's a good thing. A very good thing. All Warner does is hit the open man, and Breaston will find himself more open than a first time drunk, which is sure to lead to several man hugs after unmolested gallops into the end zone.
Kevin Walter: This is what Kevin Walter does. He throws up a huge number one week, and then completely disappears the next. In fact, I took a look at his game logs to confirm my point about him being an every-other-week performer, and I was amazed at what I found. On odd-numbered weeks (1, 3, 5 etc.), Walter's caught 21 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. He had just one game where he went over 50 yards during those weeks. In even-numbered weeks, Walter's got 34 catches for 568 yards and seven touchdowns! He has at least 70 yards in every even-numbered week. And here's the kicker, he's played one more game in odd numbered weeks! Can somebody remind what week this is? 16 you say ... that's an even number, correct? Hmmmmm ...
Dennis Northcutt: I would hate to be a Jaguars fan right now. Besides the obvious reasons (terrible record, team quitting on coach, coach benching best player etc.), just knowing that my team guaranteed $10 million to Jerry Porter for an 11-catch season, and wasted a sixth round pick to bring in a seventh string wide receiver would be enough to make me off myself. With Matt Jones finally serving his suspension, Northcutt stands to see the biggest increase in value of the remaining receivers. He went off for 125 yards on five catches, including a touchdown on Sunday. He actually hasn't been that bad this season -- averaging right around 34 yards a game, and with Reggie Williams being the only other healthy receiver, Northcutt will see plenty of underneath targets against the Colts. Think of him as the orphaned nephew of Lance Moore.
Josh Cribbs: Did you know that Cribbs has been the leading rusher for the Browns since Dorsey became the QB? Sure, he's only picked up 49 yards on 11 carries, but it sure beats Jamal Lewis' 21 attempts for 39 yards. Cleveland has been running a variation of the Wildcat package, a thing they like to call the "Brown Streak" formation -- alright, that's a lie. They call it something stupid like the "Flash" formation. Anyway, Cribbs is the point man when they go to this package, and he's run well out of it and has even attempted two passes. These Bengals/Browns matchups have a tendency to get wacky, especially when both teams are terrible (as is often the case), and what would be wackier than Cribbs pulling a David Patten circa 2001 (c'mon, you remember the game that Patten dropped 49 fantasy points by throwing for a touchdown, catching two, and rushing for another don't you?).
Tony Gonzalez vs. MiamiOwen Daniels @ OaklandJason Witten vs. BaltimoreJohn Carlson vs. New York JetsDallas Clark @ JacksonvilleZach Miller vs. HoustonChris Cooley vs. PhiladelphiaDustin Keller @ SeattleJeremy Shockey @ DetroitTony Scheffler vs. BuffaloJerramy Stevens vs. San Diego
Kellen Winslow vs. CincinnatiHeath Miller @ TennesseeGreg Olsen vs. Green BayVisanthe Shiancoe vs. AtlantaKevin Boss vs. CarolinaDonald Lee @ ChicagoL.J. Smith @ WashingtonAnthony Fasano @ Kansas City|David Martin @ Kansas CityDaniel Graham vs. BuffaloMartellus Bennett vs. BaltimoreTodd Heap @ DallasVernon Davis @ St. LouisAlex Smith vs. San Diego
Desmond Clark vs. Green BayAlge Crumpler vs. PittsburghDante Rosario @ New York GiantsMarcedes Lewis vs. IndianapolisJustin Peelle @ Minnesota
It took me a little while to warm to Carlson, but man, 19 catches for 250 yards over the last three weeks? Those are some big boy numbers right there. I see no reason why his torching play won't continue against the Jets ... You know who hasn't been very good lately? Bo Scaife. After catching 10 balls against the Bears in Week 10, he's only caught 11 more in the five games since. I'd say he's no longer startable ... The middle of the Chargers defense is like a swampy breeding ground for tight end fantasy points. I mean, they can't stop anyone. The worst game that a TE has had against them was Fasano's three catch, 47 yard outing in Week 5. If four points is the floor, you might want to consider plugging-and-playing Stevens this week. Heck, give Alex Smith a whirl if you're feeling frisky ...