The Fantasy Hit List

With 13 weeks in the books, just about everybody is now entering the fantasy playoffs. It’s time to take a serious look at those rosters and upcoming schedules to make sure you’re sending the best possible team onto the field in these crucial upcoming matchups.

Let’s take a look at some of the key performances in Week 13…with an eye to next Sunday.

MBP Award (Most Beastly Performance)

Bruce Gradkowski Quarterback Oakland Raiders

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have had a slightly better statistical performance, but Gradkowski got the win…on the road, at Pittsburgh.

The fourth-year veteran out of Toledo turned in an exceptional game, completing 20 of 33 passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 27-24 upset win of the Steelers.

Gradkowski now has six touchdowns with just one interception in his past three games and is averaging 230.3 passing yards per contest in that span. The next two games on the schedule (Washington, at Denver) will be tough, but Gradkowski has a favorable matchup in Week 16 (championship weekend) when the Raiders head to Cleveland to take on a struggling Browns defense.

Be sure to check out…

The National Football Post Experts Fantasy League, which concludes its regular season after tonight’s Monday night game.

After a miserable 0-4 start, yours truly ripped off six wins in the final nine games -- including a “thrilling” Week 13 upset -- to grab the No. 5 seed heading into wild card weekend.

The league champion will be walking away with a brand-new Plasma television, courtesy of the National Football Post.

In your opinion, who has the best odds of taking home the TV?

On the rise

Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys offense: With four games remaining in the 2008 regular season, I went out on a limb and predicted that Romo and the Cowboys would collapse down the stretch and miss the playoffs, which they did by losing three of their final four games. After dropping a 31-24 divisional showdown to the Giants on Sunday and with an upcoming schedule that features games against the Chargers, Saints and Eagles, could another December meltdown be in store for Wade Phillips and the ‘Boys?

The good news is that in terms of fantasy football, the offense is clicking right now. Romo looked fantastic on Sunday against the Giants, completing 41 of 55 passes (74.5 percent) for 392 yards and three touchdowns, with zero interceptions. The Dallas signal-caller now has 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions in his last eight games and has posted five 300-plus-yard passing efforts over that span.

Tight end Jason Witten continued his recent streak of success by hauling in 14 passes for 156 yards. Witten hasn’t found the end zone since Week 2 against the Giants (his only score of the year), but he’s posted two consecutive games with 100-plus yards. Wide receivers Miles Austin (10 receptions, 104 yards, one touchdown) and Roy Williams (six receptions, 60 yards, two touchdowns) also got in on the act and brought home solid fantasy performances.

Expect the Cowboys to keep throwing the football as three of their final four games take place against three of the NFL’s top-12 offenses.

Roddy White WR Atlanta Falcons: Even without quarterback Matt Ryan running the show, White still found a way to bring home a clutch Week 13 fantasy performance by catching nine passes for 104 yards and one score against the Philadelphia Eagles. White found most of his success when he was matched up with cornerback Sheldon Brown, who is nursing a bad hamstring. The good news for White owners is that after posting three straight games without a score, the Falcons’ top wideout has now found the end zone in each of his past two games, giving him at least one touchdown in six of his last nine games.

Donovan Mcnabb QB Philadelphia Eagles: Don’t look now, but the veteran signal-caller from the City of Brotherly Love has been a solid fantasy start over the past four weeks. McNabb is 3-1 with six touchdowns and three interceptions while averaging 298.0 passing yards over the Birds’ last four outings.

D-Mac and the Eagles travel to the Meadowlands in Week 14 for the always-popular showdown with the G-Men. The good news is that in McNabb’s last eight games against Big Blue, he’s tossed 15 touchdown passes with just one interception.

Knowshon Moreno RB Denver Broncos: One of the NFP’s favorite rookies was at it again Sunday as the former Georgia standout carried the football 21 times for 86 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 44-13 blowout win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since hitting a rough patch in the middle of the season, Moreno has bounced back to average 12.7 fantasy points per week (standard scoring) over his past four games. What’s even better is that he’s gotten 40 carries in his last two games, the highest two-game total of his rookie season.

Antonio Gates TE San Diego Chargers: Is this guy a beast or what? If you watched the Chargers-Browns game Sunday, you saw exactly how deadly Gates can be when he’s 100-percent healthy, as he time and time again out-jumped two defenders to make big grabs down the field. Gates has exceptional downfield balance, which makes him such a lethal threat against opposing linebackers who are asked to drop into coverage and defend him. The tight end hauled in eight passes for 167 yards in the Chargers’ 30-23 win at Cleveland.

Robert Meachem WR New Orleans Saints: Is there anyone in the NFL hotter than Meachem right now who is receiving LESS press? The Saints wideout continued his current run of dominance on Sunday when he snagged eight passes for 142 yards and one score against the Washington Redskins. As if that wasn’t enough, the third-year receiver out of Tennessee made a huge play in the second quarter when Redskins defensive back Kareem Moore intercepted a Drew Brees pass – only to have Meachem rip the ball from him and scamper 44 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

Crazy plays aside, Meachem has now hauled in seven touchdown passes in his last seven games and should be considered a must-start in all fantasy formats moving forward. He’s producing too much to be left on the bench.

Gates now has 15 receptions for 285 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.

Look for him on waivers

Davone Bess WR Miami Dolphins: The second-year wideout from Hawaii caught 10 passes for 117 yards and one score in the Dolphins’ 22-21 win over the Patriots. That was just his first touchdown reception of the season, so Bess is only an advised acquisition for owners in deeper fantasy leagues. That being said, he’s hauled in six or more passes in three of his last five games. In addition, his next three games (at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, Houston) come against three of the NFL’s softest pass defenses.

Falling down the boards

Laurence Maroney RB New England Patriots: Heading into Week 13, Maroney had put together an impressive six-game stretch in which he scored eight touchdowns. But just as fantasy owners were beginning to get comfortable with the idea of having Maroney in the starting rotation every week, here comes head coach Bill Belichick handing the football to three different running backs in the Pats’ 22-21 loss at Miami.

While Maroney still handled the lion’s share of the workload (13 carri es for 41 yards and no touchdowns), Sammy Morris (9-40) and Kevin Faulk (3-15) got in on the act as well. To make matters worse, running back Fred Taylor is expected to return to the lineup any day now after missing the last eight games due to injury. Be cautious starting Maroney moving forward as the Patriots could be on their way back to a backfield time-share.

Vincent Jackson WR San Diego Chargers: V-Jax caught just two passes for 54 yards on Sunday, moving his current four-game slump to nine receptions for 147 yards and no touchdowns on only 18 targets. The scary thing is that during this poorly timed lack of productivity, the Bolts are 4-0 and averaging 34.0 points per game. The possibility exists that the rib injury Jackson has been battling the last few weeks is affecting his game more than people think.

Justin Forsett RB Seattle Seahawks: The second-year back out of California had been on a roll heading into Week 13, picking up 403 total yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. But he tweaked his quad in practice Friday, which paved the way for former starting running back Julius Jones to carry the workload on Sunday as he rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries. Forsett did see some action (eight touches for 34 yards and one score), but fantasy owners have to worry that head coach Jim Mora is going to make the switch back to Jones moving forward. Stay tuned.

Carson Palmer QB Cincinnati Bengals: A home date with the Detroit Lions in Week 13 was supposed to be Palmer’s chance to post some serious fantasy numbers. Instead, the Bengals quarterback completed 17 of 29 passes for 220 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Over his past five contests, Palmer has thrown only three touchdown passes and is averaging just 187.8 passing yards per game. Part of the problem is that during that span he has only completed more than 18 passes just once -- something he was able to accomplish five times in his first seven games.

With three of his last four games coming against Minnesota, San Diego and the New York Jets, Palmer owners may want to start thinking about Plan B for their upcoming playoff run.

Pittsburgh D/ST: The defending champs are on the ropes as the Steelers have dropped four straight contests while giving up an average of 23.0 points per game. During that span, Pittsburgh is allowing 321.5 total yards per game and has been unable to force an interception. What’s worse is that the once-feared rushing defense from the Steel City has been gashed for 241 rushing yards over the past two weeks.

These guys need safety Troy Polamalu back in a hurry.

Monday night mania

MNM is back for tonight’s showdown that features the Baltimore Ravens visiting the Green Bay Packers.

I’m giving away a free NFP T-shirt to whoever can pick the winner of the game AND get the closest in guessing the total amount of points that will be scored tonight.

To get involved, it’s simple: Just leave a comment below with your picks and check back in the comments section tomorrow morning to see if you won.

Example: Packers and 45

Best of luck and enjoy the game!

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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