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Right on Target: NFC Trends Heading into the Playoffs

Decision making at this time of the fantasy football season is downright stressful. For many leagues, trade deadlines are coming right up or have already passed, so acquiring talent for the playoff push will depend solely on waiver wire acquisitions. Shallow leagues offer more promising free agent talent, but this doesn’t mean deep dynasty leagues can’t offer production from the pool. Additionally, during the fantasy playoffs the NFL regular season comes to a close so teams rest their stars or want to see what the back-end of their rosters may offer for next season.

Digging into the numbers, below is a group of players (one selected from each team) that are trending in the right direction in terms of opportunities their teams are providing. Some of these guys are definitely taken, so this is more of a heads-up to those owners looking at start/sit decisions. This is focusing on rostered players that are borderline starts as well as potential waiver wire targets (for new players to target, see Ken Kelly’s recurring waiver wire articles).

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB ARI

While he’s received regular carries since week six, the opportunities are still trending up while William Powell is a forgotten man. The return of Beanie Wells doesn’t mean LSH won’t still be relevant.  Also, despite getting shutout in week 11, Rob Housler has increased his fantasy relevance as the season has gone on.

Harry Douglas, WR ATL

I’m firmly on the Quizz bandwagon, but you already know about him. Douglas has been targeted at least six times in four different games, two of which coming in weeks 10 and 11. With Julio Jones battling some injuries and Michael Turner becoming ineffective, Matt Ryan will be looking to his other weapons with a nice fantasy schedule.

Brandon LaFell, WR CAR

Averaging just under six targets a game, LaFell has been a decent flex play when on the field. Now healthy, he will likely benefit from Steve Smith’s matchup against Nnamdi Asomugha against an otherwise porous Philadelphia defense in week 12. Receiver-friendly matchups against Kansas City (week 13), San Diego (week 15), and Oakland (week 16) make LaFell a nice low-WR2 or flex play in the fantasy playoffs.

Earl Bennett, WR CHI

This was going to be Alshon Jeffery until the news came out about his surgery. In Jeffery’s absence, Bennett was the primary beneficiary averaging five targets a game. Once Jay Cutler returns, and reports indicate this will be as early as week 12, their history together and target trends indicate Bennett is next in line. Between weeks 12 and 16, enjoy four favorable matchups including Minnesota (weeks 12 and 14), Green Bay (week 15), and Arizona (week 16).

Kevin Ogletree, WR DAL

After week one, Ogletree has averaged four targets per game. Three of his biggest weeks in PPR leagues have come against some of the stingiest defenses in terms of points allowed to wide receivers (week four vs. Chicago, week seven at Carolina, and week nine at Atlanta). When Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are blanketed, Ogletree runs free and catches a pass or two. With over 14 yards-per-catch this season, he could turn a couple targets into solid flex performances against Philadelphia (week 13), Cincinnati (week 14), and Pittsburgh (week 15).

Tony Scheffler, TE DET

He hasn’t done much this season, but we are digging deep here. Savvy fantasy owners have already picked up Ryan Broyles in dynasty leagues (if he’s available in your league, go get him now), but with little beyond Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew in the receiving game, Scheffler could be a desperation play as Detroit has some TE-friendly matchups during the stretch run (particularly Houston in week 12, Green Bay in week 14, and Atlanta in week 16).

James Starks, RB GB

Green Bay has four receivers who are owned in fantasy, and aside from the occasional Donald Driver or Jarrett Boykin target that’s about it. The running back situation, on the other hand, is still a mess. Alex Green lost his chance, so now we’re back to Starks. Cedric Benson is returning from IR, but like LSH in Arizona, I expect Starks to continue getting his carries upon the injured veteran’s return.

Jarius Wright, WR MIN

This is certainly more applicable for dynasty owners, but Wright is worth a speculative pickup. With a similar skill set to Percy Harvin (though less talented), Minnesota may want to see what he can do. He was targeted six times in week ten and caught a touchdown, though is not guaranteed to play in week 12. This means he could be available cheaply if you have an extra bench spot.

Andre Brown, RB NYG

Brown has all but officially taken over the starting job from Ahmad Bradshaw, including goal-line duties, and is surely on a roster. If it’s yours, you may want to bump him up into your flex or RB2 spot during the fantasy playoffs with friendly matchups against New Orleans (week 14), Atlanta (a team that has more recently struggled against the run week 15), and Baltimore (week 16). David Wilson may also be in the mix, especially given his first-round pick status, but Brown will be a significant part of any timeshare and has the crucial touchdown opportunities.

Joseph Morgan, WR NO

With Drew Brees at the helm, any wide receiver garnering playing time can be fantasy relevant. Morgan has big-play ability (both of his touchdowns this season have been on plays of 48 yards or longer). He’s a younger, slightly bigger version of Devery Henderson who has seen a dramatic decrease in targets the last few weeks. Morgan could haul in couple long touchdowns with potential shootouts against the Giants in week 14 and Tampa Bay in week 15.

Riley Cooper, WR PHI

With Nick Foles at the helm, Cooper was targeted eight times in week 11, tripling his season total. The fantasy playoff schedule looks fantastic for Philadelphia wideouts with Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Washington in weeks 14-16, so if Cooper can keep Foles’ attention he’s worth stashing. Bryce Brown is another name to watch with LeSean McCoy’s recent concussion and the team looking to see what they have for next year.

Golden Tate, WR SEA

In his last three games, Tate has averaged six targets per game and is developing a strong connection with Russell Wilson. It’s hard to believe the Seattle passing game could be evolving into respectable status, but Tate and Sidney Rice both averaged over 14 points per game in the two weeks leading into the bye. With Miami in week 12, Arizona in week 14, and Buffalo in week 15, the upcoming schedule looks good for the third year receiver.

Kendall Hunter, RB SF

If you have Hunter, you may find yourself debating whether to start him against New England (week 15) or Seattle (week 16), two teams that have struggled against the run of late. Of course, Hunter’s immediate value depends on the health and playing time of Frank Gore. To keep their workhorse back’s legs fresh, the 49ers should give the younger back a few more snaps to close out the regular season. Also, Colin Kaepernick loves Vernon Davis. He’ll rebound with a solid stretch run.

Lance Kendricks, TE STL

Having done nothing in a rookie season following high early-season expectations, Kendricks may be starting to come around.  Since week three, he has averaged four targets a game and has at least seven points a game in three of his last five games. Clearly a very low-end option, Kendricks could continue to get a few points per game for desperate Gronk owners with good matchups against San Francisco in week 13, Minnesota in week 15, and Tampa Bay in week 16.

Dallas Clark, TE TB

Perhaps two 11-point performances in five weeks doesn’t exactly make Clark a starting tight end again, but it’s where he’s getting his opportunities that matters. 25% of Tampa Bay’s red zone plays are passes to the tight end, and Clark is seeing the most of those. Luke Stocker is getting some chances too, but Clark is the guy trending up in targets (capped by seven catches on 11 targets in week 11). With great tight end matchups week 13 at Denver, week 15 at NO, and week 16 vs STL, Clark could once again be fantasy relevant.

Josh Morgan, WR WAS

Needing to back up a bit given the week ten bye and dominance over Philadelphia in week 11 that kept the aerial attack on the ground, Morgan was targeted a whopping 13 times in week nine. He caught only six of those passes but led the team in targets again in week 11. Leonard Hankerson might be their most talented receiver, but he hasn’t put everything together yet (the “inconsistent” label is too generous because it would imply he’s had more than a couple good weeks). Santana Moss has been productive but is given very little room for error with three targets in the last two weeks. Pierre Garcon can’t stay on the field. For a targeted receiver with a good quarterback and fantasy playoff schedule (Baltimore week 14, Cleveland week 15, Philadelphia week 16), you could do worse for a flier than Morgan.

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