With bye weeks now over, it's more important than ever to evaluate who you have on your bench and ask yourself this question: "Can I envision any scenario where I actually start that player?" Take Cedric Benson, for example. Sure he's a starting running back in the NFL. But if he's the fourth-best RB on your team, and you play in a league where you can only start two RBs, I'd cut him for Ahmad Bradshaw, who probably isn't as valuable right now but who might actually be worth starting at some point this season (e.g. if Brandon Jacobs gets hurt). In other words, now more than ever, make sure your bench has players with upside, not just mediocre players who you will never actually use.
All Bears. Coming off a bad loss, expect the Bears to bounce back this week against a Rams team that is getting blown out every week. Kyle Orton, Robbie Gould, the Bears defense, and Greg Olsen are all nice plays this week. The Bears are a bit of a mess at receiver (with Brandon Lloyd, Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, and Marty Booker all in the mix), but chances are good that at least one of them will score this week.
Tyler Thigpen, QB, Chiefs. What more can be said to make you a believer? If you're playing in a money league, David Garrard is on your roster and you don't claim Thigpen, you might as well flush your money down the toilet.
Derrick Ward, RB, and Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants. If you doubted that the Giants rushing game is phenomenal, the whooping that they put on the Ravens (who led the league in rushing defense) should have convinced you. Factor in that starter Brandon Jacobs left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury of unknown severity, and Ward and Bradshaw will be popular waiver pickups this week. Also consider this -- the Giants now have a three-game lead over everyone else in the NFC East and a two-game lead over everyone in the NFC except the Panthers. If they are resting starters in Weeks 15 or 16, Ward and/or Bradshaw could be very valuable.
J.J. Arrington, RB, Cardinals. That strange noise you just heard was the sound of Tim Hightower crashing down to earth. Arrington is not only splitting carries with Hightower, he's getting the goal-line touches, too. On a high-scoring offense like the Cardinals, anybody splitting carries and getting goal-line touches is worth owning in virtually all formats. It's also worth noting that even as Hightower has struggled, Edgerrin James has not re-entered the picture, further increasing Arrington's value.
Ahman Green, RB, Texans. Green has been getting significantly less than half of the Texans' carries and that has not changed. However, in an apparent effort to keep diminutive starter Steve Slaton fresh, Green is now getting the goal-line carries. On a high-scoring Houston offense, that gives Green value in deeper leagues, including this week against Cleveland.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills. You'd have to be hurting at running back to play Jackson, now that the byes are over, but he has a really good matchup this week against the league's worst run defense. There is a 50-50 chance that Jackson scores this week.
Antonio Bryant, WR, Bucs. Reading the box scores in the NFL never tells the full story. For instance, Bryant scored again last week, though you wouldn't know it by perusing box scores since it was called back due to a penalty. Anyway, anyone holding out a belief that Joey Galloway would be the man when he got healthy (which seemed possible until the past couple of weeks) needs to re-evaluate; it's now abundantly clear that Bryant is the Bucs' best option in the passing game. He should be owned in leagues of all formats.
Justin Gage, WR, Titans. Gage has had good chemistry with Kerry Collins for a couple of years now. People forgot about it when Gage was hurt for a few weeks, but now that he's back, and scored twice last week, everyone remembers. He may never have another game like last week on a run-first Titans offense, but Gage is better than you think.
Deion Branch, WR, Seahawks. Before last week, Bobby Engram was preferred over Branch, who was coming off an injury. Last week, though, Hasselbeck was throwing to Branch all game long, including multiple targets in the end zone, whereas Engram had only two targets.
Jerry Porter, WR, Jaguars. If Matt Jones ever gets suspended, Porter is the guy who will benefit, not Reggie Williams. Porter scored two games ago and had at least one end zone target this week as well. He's not going to be elite or anything, but that's why he's probably available on waivers.
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Dustin Keller, TE, Jets. Keller has become a top-10 tight end, maybe even Top-5. It's not just that Keller has had two good games -- he's become Favre's go-to receiver, getting targeted in all situations, all over the field. He didn't score last week, but he was targeted numerous times in the end zone. Unless you own an elite tight end (Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow, or someone comparable), Keller is a better option than who you are playing.
Lawrence Tynes, K, Giants. John Carney played very well while Tynes was hurt, but Tom Coughlin made Carney inactive this past week, letting Tynes handle the kicking duties for the first time this season. It looks like Coughlin is going to decide on his starting kicker on a week-by-week basis, which sounds like a headache. But while other owners avoid the Giants' kicking situation, keep in mind that if they play the early game on Sunday, all you have to do is see who is inactive, Tynes or Carney, and start the guy who is playing. After all, the Giants are the NFL's best team, so starting their kicker is not a bad idea.
Matt Bryant, K, Bucs. There are two things to like here: (1) the Bucs have really been struggling in the red zone; and (2) they play the Lions this week, in a dome (where, unlike other kickers this week, weather won't be a factor). In fact, all of Bryant's remaining games are either in a dome or in sunny Florida. Unless the Bucs solve their red-zone problems, expect Bryant to remain a top kicking option.
Defenses in bad weather. There aren't any defenses that jump out this week, at least not among those teams likely to be found on waivers. So now is as good a time as any to remind you that at this time of year, the best fantasy defenses are often the result of bad weather. Obviously nobody predict bad weather this far in advance, so just make a mental note to check the weather every Saturday night or Sunday morning. If rain or snow and wind are expected, the defenses playing in that game, especially the home team, merit an upgrade.