December 14, 2011

Before you set your lineups, here are a few of the more important realities to keep in mind.

If Matt Hasselbeck (calf) sits against the Colts this week, Jake Locker should be a top-12 fantasy start among quarterbacks.

Indianapolis has allowed 23 touchdowns compared to six interceptions this year, allowing opponents to complete 71.9 percent of passes. For a rookie quarterback, it's difficult to imagine a friendlier environment for a starting debut.

Locker has been impressive playing off the bench, making up for his weak completion percentage (46.0) with an average of 8.7 yards per attempt with three touchdowns in 50 pass attempts. He also has 47 yards and a score on seven rushes.

Locker isn't Cam Newton, but he can provide a similar dynamic this week thanks to his rare running ability and the favorable matchup.

It might be a bit ugly on the actual field, but Rex Grossman (assuming he avoids the bench) and wideouts Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney should be solid fantasy starts the next two weeks in most leagues.

Washington takes on the Giants and Vikings defenses in Week 15 and 16, respectively, teams that combine to allow 256 yards per game passing with a season total of 50 passing touchdowns compared to 21 interceptions.

In Moss' case, in fact, the current situation is so favorable that he might be close to a must-start for most of his owners. He has only 123 yards the last two games, but his 21 targets over that span indicate that he's capable of and due for some big numbers soon, and matchups with the Giants and Vikings defenses should be the necessary catalyst.

Moss is a more conventionally obvious fantasy option than Gaffney, but Gaffney has been surprisingly productive the last month. He did have a zero-catch dud against the Jets two weeks ago, which was largely the result of seeing a surprising amount of Darrelle Revis in coverage, but in the other three weeks he has 18 catches for 279 yards and two scores. That includes six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown on eight targets against the Patriots last week.

Matt Ryan has been up-and-down most of the year, but his fantasy owners can look to him for good production in the fantasy playoffs.

With a home matchup against an injury-depleted Jacksonville secondary, Ryan should be a particularly strong play in Week 15. It has been well-documented for some time now, but it's worth mentioning how good Ryan is when he's playing at the Georgia Dome: he averages 242 yards and two touchdowns per game at home this year despite Julio Jones missing roughly 2.5 of those games.

A road trip against the Saints the next week probably poses a greater challenge, but there's no reason for Ryan not to do well (at least in fantasy terms) in that game, either. The Saints offense likely will up the ante quickly, forcing Ryan to air it out against a defense that has allowed 1,772 yards passing the last five weeks.

Similarly, Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez look like very strong fantasy options (particularly with the latter two, of course).

James Jones can't be expected to produce most weeks, but with Greg Jennings (MCL sprain) out, Jones is a justifiable start for most or all of his owners.

He has a bit of a bad reputation due to his inconsistent hands, but Jones might be underrated as a playmaker. He pulled in 70.3 percent of his targets (26 out of 37) so far in 2011 while averaging 12.95 yards per target. He also has five touchdowns.

With Jennings out of the lineup, an average of 7.8 targets per game goes with him. Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley figure to get at least a one more per game, too, but Jones is almost definitely in for an increased workload. If he keeps his current yardage-per-target average and averages two more targets per game, he should have a good shot at approaching 150 yards and two scores the next two weeks.

For owners desperate for a spot starter at receiver this week, Minnesota's Devin Aromashodu could be a decent gamble against the Saints.

Aromashodu saw 25 targets the last two weeks -- 15 against Denver and 10 against Detroit. The result (10 catches for 137 yards) was not a display of efficiency, but Aromashodu's conditions nonetheless remain favorable for some cheap fantasy production.

Percy Harvin is the only other receiver seeing a noteworthy number of targets in Minnesota, and the team's awful pass defense (8.1 YPA, 26 touchdowns allowed compared to six interceptions) is almost certain to get destroyed by Drew Brees this week. The response likely will be another pass-heavy game by the Minnesota offense -- an offense that attempted 91 passes the last two weeks to keep up with the less potent Denver and Detroit offenses.

It would probably be a bit of a downgrade for Aromashodu if Christian Ponder (hip) sits against the Saints, but even if Joe Webb starts, deep-league owners can be still be somewhat hopeful starting Aromashodu against a New Orleans defense that has allowed more than 350 passing yards per game the last five weeks.

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