The Fantasy Hit List

Big-time players make big-time plays.

There are always a few surprise performances each week in the world of fantasy football (running back Quinton Ganther went for 93 total yards and two touchdowns Sunday), but the horses that got you to the postseason showed up in full force for the first weekend of the playoffs.

Wide receivers Andre Johnson (11-193-2 TDs), Brandon Marshall (21-200-2) and DeSean Jackson (6-178-1) and running backs Ray Rice (219 total yards, 1 TD), Chris Johnson (186 total yards, 3 TDs) and Ryan Grant (20-137-2) put your teams on their backs as they lit up opposing defenses for some of the most impressive fantasy performances of the season. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Chris Johnson continues to make a case for the MVP award. The Titans’ second-year running back has now scored 10 touchdowns in his last seven contests and is averaging an eye-popping 155.1 total yards per game. As a side note, former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk’s record for total yards in a season (2,429 in 1999) is within striking distance. Johnson needs to pick up just 413 yards in three games (137.6 yards/game) to set the record. Will he do it? Keep in mind, Johnson closes out his 2009 campaign against the Dolphins and Chargers and a road game against the Seahawks.

In addition, quarterbacks Drew Brees (298 yards, 3 TDs), Peyton Manning (220 yards, 4 TDs), Matt Schaub (365 yards, 2 TDs) and Donovan McNabb (275 yards, 2 TDs) continued to make a case for why fantasy owners should seriously consider drafting a quality QB in the first three rounds.

TD passes per game Games without TD pass

Drew Brees 2.4 2

Peyton Manning 2.2 1

Aaron Rodgers 1.9 1

Matt Schaub 1.8 2

Philip Rivers 1.6 1

It’s tough to argue with rock-solid consistency and production on a weekly basis. These five quarterbacks are most likely dominating the playoff rosters in fantasy football leagues right now.

How about some love for the tight ends?

Ken Daube of ESPN and I squared off in the first round of the NFP Fantasy Experts League this weekend, and our showdown featured a war at the tight end position.

Daube’s boy Dallas Clark had me draining the life out of my iPhone on my way to the Meadowlands yesterday as I was constantly checking to see if the Colts had called off the wolves.

Five catches for 43 yards and three touchdowns later, Clark decided to call it a day.

However, waiver-wire special Fred Davis kept me alive at 4 p.m. eastern with a gem of his own as the former USC Trojan hauled in three passes for 50 yards and two scores.

You can check out what’s going on in the Experts League by clicking HERE.

In addition to Clark and Davis, Eagles tight end Brent Celek (5-64-1) and Giants tight end Kevin Boss (7-70-1) posted solid fantasy outings, as we predicted they would last Thursday.

MBP Award (Most Beastly Performance)

Brandon Marshall Wide Receiver Denver Broncos

You could make a legitimate case for Chris Johnson as the Week 14 MBP, but any time a guy sees 28 targets and hauls in an NFL-record 21 receptions, he’s going to end up as my top guy for the week.

In a losing effort, Marshall turned in a performance for the ages as the wideout caught a staggering 21 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 28-16 loss at Indy.

Three weeks from now, nobody is going to be talking about this loss. But we will ALWAYS talk about Marshall’s performance.

Isn’t it also time to start talking about a new contract?

We’re changing it up this week

Rather than our usual Monday stock watch article, let’s take a look at which players are poised to explode and which are destined for doom over the final three weeks of the season.

Note: The numbers in parenthesis indicate the average number of fantasy points the opposing defense is giving up to that position per week and the corresponding rank based on all 32 teams.

Quarterbacks on the rise

Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers: Week 15 at Pittsburgh (15.6, 7th), Week 16 vs. Seattle (19.9, 29th), Week 17 at Arizona (18.9, 25th).

Analysis: Despite a tough Week 15 matchup against the Steelers, Rodgers closes out 2009 with games against Seattle and Arizona. Remember, if safety Troy Polamalu is out for Week 15, that matchup gets much friendlier.

Matt Schaub Houston Texans: Week 15 at St. Louis (18.8, 24th), Week 16 at Miami (19.5, 28th), Week 17 vs. New England (17.1, 14th).

Analysis: Schaub looks to be the top fantasy quarterback heading down the stretch for owners in leagues that play their championship game in Week 16. St. Louis and Miami rank in the bottom 10 in points allowed to opposing fantasy quarterbacks.

Alex Smith San Francisco 49ers: Week 15 at Philadelphia (17.9, 17th), Week 16 vs. Detroit (23.1, 32nd), Week 17 at St. Louis (18.8, 24th).

Analysis: If Smith can post some decent numbers against the Eagles next Sunday, look for him to keep the momentum rolling as he gets a crack at both Detroit and St. Louis at the end of the year.

Quarterbacks falling

Carson Palmer Cincinnati Bengals: Week 15 at San Diego (16.1, 9th), Week 16 vs. Kansas City (19.2, 27th), Week 17 at New York Jets (10.9, 1st).

Analysis: Two top-10 matchups to close out the year for a quarterback who’s been struggling to find the end zone is not a good sign. The only ray of hope here is Week 16 when Palmer gets a chance to light up Kansas City.

Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys: Week 15 at New Orleans (14.8, 6th), Week 16 at Washington (14.5, 5th), Week 17 vs. Philadelphia (17.9, 17th).

Analysis: Yikes. Good luck with that, Romo.

Matt Ryan/Chris Redman Atlanta Falcons: Week 15 at New York Jets (10.9, 1st), Week 16 vs. Buffalo (12.1, 2nd), Week 17 at Tampa Bay (18.4, 12th).

Analysis: The only appealing matchup here takes place in Week 17, when many owners are busy celebrating the trophy they won the previous week.

Running backs on the rise

Knowshon Moreno Denver Broncos: Week 15 vs. Oakland (25.5, 30th), Week 16 at Philadelphia (17.7, 14th), Week 17 vs. Kansas City (24.0, 27th).

Analysis: The Eagles could pose a problem in Week 16, but if that’s the toughest defense Moreno owners have to worry about, I’d say you’re in good shape.

Tim Hightower/Beanie Wells Arizona Cardinals: Week 15 at Detroit (24.4, 28th), Week 16 vs. St. Louis (25.5, 29th), Week 17 vs. Green Bay (13.3, 3rd).

Analysis: A Week 17 date with the Green Bay Packers will mean Wells and Hightower are headed to your bench, but favorable showdowns with Detroit and St. Louis make it well worth it.

Jerome Harrison/Chris Jennings Cleveland Browns: Week 15 at Kansas City (24.0, 27th), Week 16 vs. Oakland (25.5, 30th), Week 17 vs. Jacksonville (16.3, 7th).

Analysis: After his performance in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, look for former CFL running back Chris Jennings to start assuming more of the workload. He’s an excellent waiver-wire addition you should be targeting this week.

Running backs falling

Matt Forte Chicago Bears: Week 15 at Baltimore (14.9, 4th), Week 16 vs. Minnesota (12.2, 1st), Week 17 at Detroit (24.4, 28th).

Analysis: Forte is making a strong case for bust of the year, so owners shouldn’t hesitate to bench him during his Week 15 and 16 matchups. Week 17 against Detroit is a solid play, but many owners will have wrapped up their seasons by that point.

Rashard Mendenhall Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 15 vs. Green Bay (13.3, 3rd), Week 16 vs. Baltimore (14.9, 4th), Week 17 at Miami (17.5, 12th).

Analysis: He’ll see touches, but Mendenhall owners can’t feel confident about three games against three of the NFL’s top-12 fantasy run defenses.

LaDainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers: Week 15 vs. Cincinnati (15.9, 5th), Week 16 at Tennessee (18.8, 19th), Week 17 vs. Washington (16.1, 6th).

Analysis: With nine rushing touchdowns in his last seven games, it will be tough for LT owners to consider sending their first-round pick to the bench. Outside of the tough remaining schedule, keep in mind that Tomlinson is averaging just 57.3 rushing yards per game over his past six outings.

Wide receivers on the rise

Nate Burleson Seattle Seahawks: Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay (22.7, 27th), Week 16 at Green Bay (19.1, 13th), Week 17 vs. Tennessee (27.2, 32nd).

Analysis: Two home games against soft fantasy pass defenses make Burleson an excellent WR2/WR3 option in Weeks 15 and 17. But be very cautious about his Week 16 game at Green Bay. Cornerback Charles Woodson will make life very difficult for Burleson.

Antonio Bryant Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 15 at Seattle (26.4, 31st), Week 16 at New Orleans (21.6, 24th), Week 17 vs. Atlanta (20.4, 19th).

Analysis: Take three good matchups, throw in some garbage-time numbers and you get a reliable fantasy wideout for the home stretch.

Donald Driver/Greg Jennings Green Bay Packers: Week 15 at Pittsburgh (20.8, 22nd), Week 16 vs. Seattle (26.4, 31st), Week 17 at Arizona (23.0, 28th).

Analysis: No wide receiver has a better remaining schedule than Driver and Jennings. In addition, they’ll be playing for the rights to the first wild-card spot, so there’s virtually no chance of them sitting out the final game(s).

Wide receivers falling

Roddy White Atlanta Falcons: Week 15 at New York Jets (12.6, 1st), Week 16 vs. Buffalo (14.1, 31st), Week 17 at Tampa Bay (22.4, 27th).

Analysis: A Week 15 date with Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis spells disaster for fantasy owners.

Chris Chambers Kansas City Chiefs: Week 15 vs. Cleveland (18.4, 8th), Week 16 at Cincinnati (16.5, 5th), Week 17 at Denver (16.4, 4th).

Analysis: Chambers was a fun story for a few weeks, but fantasy owners need to look for more reliability during the playoffs. His upcoming schedule is a disaster, and a Week 17 meeting with Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey means you must leave him on the bench.

Chad Ochocinco Cincinnati Bengals: Week 15 at San Diego (18.7, 9th), Week 16 vs. Kansas City (21.7, 25th), Week 17 at New York Jets (12.6, 1st).

Analysis: Consider Ocho a solid play in Week 16 but a risky start anytime else. Week 17 features a matchup with Revis, so owners should already be thinking about another option.

Tight end quick hitters

Tight ends on the rise

1. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
2. Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints
3. Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings

Tight ends falling

1. Todd Heap, Baltimore Ravens
2. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
3. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars

Monday night mania

MNM is back for another week as tonight’s matchup features the 8-4 Arizona Cardinals visiting the 5-7 San Francisco 49ers.

I’m adding a new wrinkle this week. All of you will be picking against the spread.

Whoever can pick the winning team and get the closest in guessing the total number of points that will be scored wins an NFP T-shirt.

Tonight’s Line: Arizona -3.5

Just leave a comment with your picks and check back in the comments section tomorrow morning to see if you won.

Example: San Francisco, 45

Good luck!

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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