1. DO Snatch Up Josh Freeman
One’s an accident. Two’s coincidence. But when Josh Freeman puts up his third game in a row throwing for three touchdowns — all 22-point performances or better — it’s time to take notice. Although Freeman isn’t actually that good of a quarterback, he’s found a way to exploit the weak defenses Tampa’s been facing for maximum fantasy effectiveness; that is, a few touchdowns, no interceptions, and a respectable amount of yardage. (Fantasy, kindly enough, doesn’t mind volume shooters — the fact that it took Freeman 36 attempts to pick up 262 yards last night doesn’t matter.)
For the rest of the season, Freeman should continue to be a decent alternative play: in the next two weeks, he faces Oakland and San Diego, both below-league-average passing defenses, and later on in the season he draws New Orleans again. If you can start a quarterback who’s playing against the Saints, you should.
3. DON’T Even Look At Tony Romo
Oh, Tony Romo, why hast thou forsaken throwing mad touchdowns? In 2011, Romo was the NFL’s 7th-best quarterback; this year, he isn’t even in the top half of the league. He’s 24TH. 24th! What happeend to the ol’ Cowboys gunslinger! Dez Bryant has yet to grow into the receiver that the Cowboys hoped he would be, leaving Romo with one less weapon than would be ideal, and he has a bunch of tough defenses coming up, including Atlanta and Philly. Down the road a ways, Romo could see a resurgence in value — the Browns, Saints, and Redskins (twice!) will do that for you — but you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth holding a roster spot for a guy who’s probably only going to have significant value four more times this season. Like — he’s had fewer fantasy points this year than Brandon Weeden. I don’t care if you drafted him in the third or fourth round; get off this sinking ship.
5. DO Start Chris Johnson This Week
After a laughably bad start to the season, Chris Johnson just posted his fourth game in a row with 90-plus yards. Fantasy-wise, CJ’s still been a huge disappointment, considering Week 7 was the first week all year that he reached the end zone, but it looks like the ship is at least somewhat righted — Johnson will succeed against bad rushing defenses. Essentially, this is what it comes down to: Buffalo is the league’s worst rushing defense, and so Johnson tore them up. This week, he has the porous Colts, who are basically the only rushing defense that made Shonn Greene look like a real running back this year, so you can expect another 15-plus-point performance. Afterward, he could actually make great trade bait if you’re otherwise comfortable at running back, because his schedule gets a little harder, but that’s a strictly situational decision.
7. DON’T Bother With LaRod Stephens-Howling
Most of the time, when a running back posts a 100-yard-and-a-touchdown game, and he’s only owned in 13% of leagues, it’s worth hitting the waiver wires hard to get that guy. But I’d express extreme caution about the current holder of hot potato that is the Cardinals’ RB1 position — hell, pretty much every skill player on the Cardinals’ offense has changed at least once this year. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a career kick-return specialist and resident speedster who’s never posted more than 167 yards rushing in a season — he just isn’t someone who has ever been used as a feature back. And though his nice performance this season against the Vikings looked very good at first, it’s been called into question by the fact that Doug Martin also obliterated Minnesota’s defense last night. Against the 49ers, I’d bet that Stephens-Howling is more likely to go for under 3 yards per carry than over 100 yards total.
9. DO Opt For Alex Green, Jonathan Dwyer, or Daniel Thomas Instead
Of course, if I shoot down one of your pinch-hit running back ideas, I need to provide another, so here are two.
1. Alex Green is one of the two guys — the other being James Starks — who’s been given a shot at replacing the injured Cedric Benson as Green Bay’s feature running back. Being Green Bay’s feature running back should be easy, considering that the team is helmed by the greatest quarterback to ever star in a series of bizarre insurance commercials. However, the offense is so pass-focused that the running game often seems janky and under-thought. Green will get as good of a chance as he’ll ever have this weekend to establish himself as a starter against the abysmal Jaguars, and their run-D woes should be a pretty nice antidote to the Packers’ similar problems on offense.
2. Daniel Thomas is not the starting running back on the Dolphins, but he still gets a decent number of touches, particularly in the red zone. The Jets’ running D has been rough in 2012, so Thomas could fill in in a pinch if you’ve been roughed up by byes.
11. DON’T Let Team Defenses Drive You Too Crazy
Story time: a few weeks ago, I picked up the Vikings’ D in both my leagues — after the demise of the Jets’ D following Darelle Revis’ injury, I needed a replacement. The first week, I looked like a genius: holding Tennessee to only a touchdown, scoring 11 points. The next week, Washington dropped 38, the Vikes’ D did -1, and I looked really dumb. THE THIRD WEEK, they produced 17 points against Arizona, and I looked like a genius AGAIN. Then last night, NEGATIVE FIVE POINTS AHHHHH *explodes*.
Point being, defenses tend to be one of the least predictable and easily maneuvered fantasy assets. If you don’t have one of the upper echelon squads — basically, the Bears and the Texans — just grab a mid-level defense and stick with it.
13. DO Suspend Disbelief And Grab Jeremy Kerley
I’ve been first in line to discourage anyone from putting any dependence on the Jets, who are awful and frustrating and make me want to cry. BUT, I’m actually comfortable at this point endorsing Kerley, who has made it obvious that he’s the only player on the Jets’ offense, after the injury to Holmes, who has any sort of discernible skill and potential. Kerley’s pattern so far this year has been alternating between double-digit fantasy performances and duds, but his last game against Miami was a 13-pointer, and that’s this week’s opponent. At the very least, Kerley’s targets should only increase as the year goes on, and the return of Dustin Keller means that he’ll at least have one other capable target to help take some of the defensive heat off.
So, yeah — that happened to DHB, only a few weeks ago. Somehow, he’s back on the field, and you’d kind of expect that a dude who just had…that happen to him wouldn’t be back to full speed. But in his first game after returning to the starting lineup, Heyward-Bey had four receptions for 84 yards. Despite the Raiders’ struggles this year, Carson Palmer has still been showing he’s got a little left in his arm, and Denarius Moore has already become a legitimate fantasy threat. If Heyward-Bey can rebound from his injury back to his form at the end of last year — despite his slow start before the injury — he’ll be an easy and worthwhile pick-up.
17. DO Mind The Hurricane!
Make sure to remind the guys on your team to stock up on potable water and canned beans.