YOUR TEAM is offto a great start, scoring more points than an unguarded Kobe Bryant. It's timeto start thinking playoffs, plugging the holes in your roster to have your teamin top form for the postseason. But as you ponder trade possibilities, whichplayers should you target? The answer is the following seven, whose performancearcs and schedules best position them to peak at the right time: Weeks 14, 15and 16, a.k.a. the fantasy playoffs. So put them on your wish list.
DAVID CARR QBTexans
Yes, Houston isbad, having been outscored 113--66 in four games, but that's what has made Carrso good. With the Texans often facing large early deficits, Carr has beenforced to throw. Thanks in part to the tutelage of new coach and quarterbackguru Gary Kubiak, Carr's numbers (865 yards, seven touchdowns in four games)have been a pleasant surprise. Kubiak says that the 27-year-old is finallybeginning to "show some signs of really growing up as a player."
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 vs. Titans; WEEK 15 at Patriots; WEEK 16 vs. Colts
Carr faces awoeful Tennessee squad in Week 14 and, in the √ºberimportant Week 16 (theFantasy Super Bowl for many leagues), a Colts team that he burned for threetouchdowns in a Week 2 loss.
THOMAS JONES RBBears
The Rex GrossmanShow has carried Chicago through five weeks, but there are signs that therunning game is coming around. Two weeks ago against Seattle the Bears rushedfor 143 yards, and on Sunday in a 40--7 rout of the Bills they rolled up 155."We're starting to complement each other, the run and the pass," Jonessays. And with the wintry weather making the vertical game a dicey prospect atSoldier Field in December, running the ball will only become more important forChicago.
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 at Rams; WEEK 15 vs. Buccaneers; WEEK 16 at Lions
A date with TampaBay, which has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, makes the acquisitionof Jones valuable in and of itself.
WILLIS MCGAHEE RBBills
Trading for theAFC's rushing leader (439 yards) is like buying Google at 475, but McGahee'supside makes the move worthwhile if you can pull it off. (And last week'ssubpar, 50-yard outing against the Bears may soften the market.) Though McGaheerushed for just 78 yards against the Vikings two weeks ago, coach Dick Jauronsaid it was "the best I've seen him play since I've been here. And he'splayed really well every week." Since he's the only proven commodity onBuffalo's offense, there's no reason for the Bills not to call McGahee's numberregularly.
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 at Jets; WEEK 15 vs. Dolphins; WEEK 16 vs. Titans
The Jets' rundefense is bad, the Titans' is worse--and McGahee gets both, bookending afavorable matchup against Miami.
GREG JENNINGS WRPackers
The Packers can'tdo much right on offense these days. What they can do, though, is throw toJennings, a rookie from Western Michigan who has 364 yards and a team-highthree touchdowns. Last week quarterback Brett Favre praised his new wideout."Greg Jennings has gotten nothing but better each week," Favre said."We've got to continue to throw it to him."
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 at 49ers; WEEK 15 vs. Lions; WEEK 16 vs. Vikings
Games against SanFrancisco and Detroit, which feature two of the league's worst pass defenses,offset any concerns over the passing conditions at Lambeau Field inDecember.
MATT HASSELBECKQB Seahawks
Considered a topfive quarterback entering the season, Hasselbeck has been a fantasy bust. Threeof his four games, including those against the Lions and the Cardinals, havebeen egg-layers. That works in your favor, though, because it only makes hisasking price more affordable. The return of tight end Jerramy Stevens from aknee injury this week and the improvement of new receiver Deion Branch renderHasselbeck more dangerous.
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 at Cardinals; WEEK 15 vs. 49ers; WEEK 16 vs. Chargers
Facing the SanDiego D in Week 16 is less than ideal, but no one has a better Weeks 14 and 15schedule than Hasselbeck, who should pile up the stats against Arizona and SanFrancisco.
ANTONIO BRYANT WR49ers
The fiery 49erhas been as hot and cold as his infamous temper--245 receiving yards and atouchdown in his first two games, followed by 92 yards and no touchdowns in hisnext three. Despite the erratic start, he has established himself as the go-toguy for quarterback Alex Smith in an improved San Francisco offense.
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 vs. Packers; WEEK 15 at Seahawks; WEEK 16 vs. Cardinals
Few players'schedules set up as favorably as Bryant's. Green Bay, Seattle and Arizona allrank in the bottom half of the league against the pass, making him a must-startin those weeks.
CHESTER TAYLOR RBVikings
Though the bestoffensive line that money could buy this off-season has not performed asexpected (the Bears' and the Bills' defenses had much to do with that), Taylorstill ranks among the league's rushing leaders (421 yards) and remains awell-fed featured back in a league with a surfeit of running back time-shares.He's a solid No. 2 guy.
Fantasy PlayoffMatchups: WEEK 14 at Lions; WEEK 15 vs. Jets; WEEK 16 at Packers
Taylor facesthree teams that rank in the bottom third in total defense. The translation:The Vikings will move the ball at will, and Taylor will punch it in.
MORE PLAYERS TO PURSUE
1 Vikings quarterback BRAD JOHNSON should thrive in Weeks 14 (Lions), 15 (Jets)and 16 (Packers).
2 Owners who stuck with Seahawks RB Shaun Alexanderwill be rewarded in Weeks 14 (Cardinals) and 15 (49ers).
3 The Saints' Deuce McAllister faces an NFC Eastlineup--Cowboys, Redskins, Giants--that has been defensively challenged.
4 Eagles RB Brian Westbrook ends his season with NFCEast rivals--the Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, all on the road.
5 Home games in Weeks 14 and 16 against the Packersand the Cardinals should mean big numbers for 49ers QB Alex Smith.
6 Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson has a terrific trackrecord against the Cardinals (Week 14, road) and 49ers (15, home).
7 Packers QB Brett Favre's possible swan song includesgames against the porous pass defenses of the 49ers and the Lions.
8 Top Texans WR Andre Johnson gets juicy season-endingmatchups against the Titans, Patriots and Colts.
9 In Weeks 14 and 16 the Falcons' Warrick Dunnconfronts the Bucs and the Panthers, whom he has ripped this year.
10 The Giants' Tiki Barber (100-plus yards in fivestraight home games) gets the Eagles and Saints at home in Weeks 15 and 16.
PLAYERS TO AVOID FOR PLAYOFF TIME
1 After missing all of 2005 and all but two games of'04 with injuries, the Browns' KELLEN WINSLOW has become one of the league'smost productive tight ends, catching 30 passes for 283 yards and twotouchdowns. Success down the stretch is far from certain, however: Clevelandplays the Steelers and the Ravens in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. The goodnews is, if your fantasy team is still kicking in Week 16, Winslow faces theBucs.
2 The Ravens and the Chargers, the NFL's top two rundefenses, await the Chiefs' Larry Johnson in Weeks 14 and 15.
3 Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald encounters theSeahawks and the Broncos, then gets a breather vs. the 49ers.
4 The Patriots' Laurence Maroney meets Miami, whichheld him to 38 yards, again in Week 14, and the Jags.
5 A must-start every week, Chargers RB LaDainianTomlinson gets the Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks in December.
6 The Bucs' Cadillac Williams faces a bad Brownsdefense in Week 16 but runs into the nasty Falcons and Bears before that.
7 If he's still healthy by Week 15, Panthers runningback DeShaun Foster meets the Steelers and the Falcons.
8 Running back Travis Henry, one of the few usableTitans, sees the Jaguars in Week 15, then plays his former team, the Bills.
9 Lions WR Roy Williams plays in Green Bay (notstat-friendly in December), then against Chicago (not stat-friendly ever).
10 It's not Bills WR Lee Evans's opposition (Jets,Dolphins, Titans) that's tough, it's the locales--N.J. and Buffalo.
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