The Patriots, Jets, Buccaneers and Texans are off this weekend, and after that the bye weeks are history. With four or five games left in your fantasy regular season, it's time to trade some of your depth.
Stuck with a mediocre quarterback like Donovan McNabb? Then use one of your three good running backs as bait for an upgrade. Or, try to package players in two-for-one or three-for-one deals in an attempt to grab an extra fantasy stud for the stretch drive.
Unless your team is the league's resident bully, make your move this week or next. If you're in contention, the right move now can make the difference between "nice try" and permanent bragging rights over all your friends. Here are a few players you might want to target for your fantasy championship run — think of them as good players who are likely to play like stars for the next month.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle: Hasselbeck is a top-10 fantasy quarterback, but his current owner probably isn't holding onto him for dear life. The Seahawks are having trouble running the ball, they have four good wide receivers (Bobby Engram, Deion Branch, D.J. Hackett, Nate Burleson) and their head coach said his solution to the running problems will be to throw the ball more starting this week. Sounds like Hasselbeck has hit the fantasy jackpot, doesn't it? He's a good bet to light up your fantasy scoreboard over the next five or six weeks.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants: Jacobs is ranked 32nd among running backs for the season in standard FOXSports.com leagues, but that's partly due to his missing three early season games with a knee injury. Since returning four games ago, Jacobs is averaging 106 yards per game and a terrific 5.7 yards per carry. He's good enough to be a No. 1 running back for most fantasy teams the rest of the way, and he'd probably cost you less than other big-name top RBs in a trade.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver: Marshall is on pace for a 90-catch, 1,200-yard season, but he still flies under the radar a bit, mainly because he only has a pair of touchdowns so far. Right now, the Broncos' running game is struggling: Starting wideout Javon Walker is out for a few more weeks, and QB Jay Cutler is hobbled by a leg injury. There's one healthy playmaker left in Denver, and it's Marshall. He had nine receptions for 96 yards last week, and they're going to get the ball in his hands as often as possible.
And now, for Wide Write's regularly scheduled programming:
GOOD: Drew Brees, New Orleans
Brees was in this spot last week, and while we really like to spread the wealth around here, 445 yards and three touchdowns can't be ignored, can they? Like we said last week, Brees and the Saints are on a roll offensively, and that won't be stopping anytime soon.
Honorable mention: Brett Favre, Green Bay (24-34, 360 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT); Quinn Gray, Jacksonville (20-33, 354 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT)
BAD: Jason Campbell, Washington
Some alleged fantasy experts — like yours truly — pegged Campbell as a breakout candidate coming into the season. Instead, he's been about as mediocre as mediocre gets, and his 12-for-23, 142-yard, one-pickoff performance against the Jets last week was typical. Campbell has six touchdown passes this year, with none of them going to his wide receivers. Between the Campbell prediction and drafting the awful Santana Moss on two teams, the Redskins are persona non grata in the Wide Write offices right now.
THIS WEEK'S PLAY: Cleo Lemon, Miami
Say your regular starting quarterback is Tom Brady, or maybe Jeff Garcia. All season, you've had a quarterback on your bench whose name you can't remember anymore, and just for this week you want to grab a replacement. Mr. Lemon might be your guy.
In three starts, Lemon has three passing touchdowns along with three rushing touchdowns, and he's averaging 213 yards per game in the air. This week, the Dolphins host the Bills and their 29th-ranked pass defense. Lemon's not great, but he could have a nice game for you. Take a flier on him, and ignore the accompanying ridicule from your fellow owners. You're smarter than they are.
GOOD: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Words don't adequately describe the fantasy awesomeness of Adrian Peterson. After his record-setting 296-yard, three-TD day against the Chargers, Peterson is the top-ranked running back in fantasy football for 2007, and it's really not that close.
Three weeks ago, we felt pretty smart for writing that Purple Jesus would be the second overall pick in 2008 fantasy drafts. Now, he's making a strong argument for the top spot. If you could start from scratch and be a fan of any team in the NFL for the next 10 years, wouldn't you become a Vikings fan just so you could root for this guy?
Honorable mention: Clinton Portis, Washington (36 carries, 196 yards, 1 TD); Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo (29 carries, 153 yards, 1 TD)
BAD: Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati
Great news! Your top pick at running back is back in the lineup after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury. Hooray! The Bengals say they don't want to overwork their star ball carrier too quickly, but that's OK, even a part-time Rudi is better than no Rudi at all. Here's how his running day goes (from NFL.com's play-by-play):
1. 32-R.Johnson left guard to CIN 41 for 1 yard
2. 32-R.Johnson left tackle to BUF 15 for 1 yard
3. 32-R.Johnson right guard to CIN 40 for 6 yards
4. 32-R.Johnson right guard to CIN 5 for no gain
5. 32-R.Johnson left guard to CIN 8 for 3 yards
6. 32-R.Johnson left guard to CIN 26 for -1 yards
7. 32-R.Johnson left guard to BUF 49 for -2 yards
8. 32-R.Johnson up the middle to BUF 1 for 6 yards
9. 32-R.Johnson left guard to CIN 5 for -3 yards
TOTAL: 9 carries, 11 yards
Over his past three games, Johnson has rushed 30 times and gained 28 yards. You know how we said "words don't adequately describe the fantasy awesomeness of Adrian Peterson?" Take the total opposite of Peterson, multiply it by three, and that's Rudi Johnson right now.
THIS WEEK'S PLAY: Maurice Morris, Seattle
As mentioned above, the Seahawks' running game isn't very good at the moment. Maybe that's because Shaun Alexander is hurt, maybe it's because Alexander is as done as a pot roast, and maybe it's because the Seahawks' offensive line couldn't open holes in a Pop Warner defense. Whatever the reason, you have to think Morris will get more time this week.
In his last two outings, Morris had a respectable 19 carries for 97 yards. Don't expect a superstar performance, but if you need a flex player or No. 3 running back, Morris could be a good play against the struggling 49ers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
GOOD: Bobby Engram, Seattle
Speaking of the Seahawks, the 34-year-old Engram is on pace for career highs of 96 receptions and 1,214 yards. Engram had a huge week against the Browns, with 14 catches for 139 yards and a TD. He's caught 29 passes in the last three games, and there's no reason why he won't continue to be Seattle's main possession receiver.
Honorable mention: Terrell Owens, Dallas (10 receptions, 174 yards, 1 TD); Lee Evans, Buffalo (9 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD); Randy Moss (9 receptions, 145 yards, 1 TD)
BAD: Steve Smith, Carolina
The consensus around the Wide Write offices is that Smith is one of the best two or three wide receivers in the NFL. We really, really like him. He caught three passes for 15 yards on Sunday, and he's in our "Bad" receiver spot for the second time this season. We feel terrible about this.
In Smith's defense, try to compare your occupation to his for a second. If there are people where you work who stink at their jobs, you do your best to make sure their performances don't make you look bad, right?
Smith doesn't have that option. He just has to watch balls sail over his head, or bounce in front of him, or have himself covered by three defenders and try to fight them off when the quarterback throws to him anyway. At this point, the Panthers would probably be better off running a single-wing offense, snapping the ball to Smith every time and letting him take off. It's not like things could get worse.
THIS WEEK'S PLAY: Vernon Davis, San Francisco
Davis was a hot fantasy commodity before the season, but he started slow and then missed three games with a sprained knee. Since returning three games ago, Davis has caught 17 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. Davis is quickly becoming QB Alex Smith's favorite target, and he's only owned in 65 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. Unless you have a top-tier tight end like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten or Kellen Winslow, plan to start Davis every week from now on.
John Halpin covers fantasy sports for FOXSports.com, writing a morning football blog Sundays through Thursdays and baseball columns once or twice each week, depending on the season. His "Wide Write" will appear every Tuesday during the NFL season on FOXNews.com. Send him an e-mail at email@example.com.
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