1. Dwayne Bowe — These last two weeks have provided a rude wakeup call for Bowe owners: the fantasy football equivalent of a drill sergeant waking up his platoon by repeatedly banging two garbage-can lids together. After an incredible seven-game run during which he caught 13 TD passes and averaged seven receptions, Bowe has struck an iceberg. He was shut out two weeks ago against Denver. Last week against the Chargers, with Chiefs QB Matt Cassel out following an appendectomy, Bowe was held to one catch for three yards. If you've survived the bursting of the Bowe bubble, do you throw him into your lineup again in a playoff week? You'll obviously want to monitor the status of Cassel, who has a chance to return against the Rams. If Cassel is back, Bowe should have a reasonably good chance to get his groove back against a St. Louis defense that's easier to throw on than run against.
2. Michael Vick — After playing the Superman role for much of the season, Vick is now trying to put fantasy teams on his shoulders and carry them to championships. Since his Week Nine return from a chest injury, he's had six rushing TDs in six games to go along with 11 TD passes. His per-game yardage averages over that span: 285.7 passing yards, 49.3 rushing yards. If you're up against Vick this week, the Eagles' matchup against the Giants offers a sliver of hope. When the two teams played in Week 11, the Giants didn't allow Vick to throw a TD pass, although he did have a rushing TD. Vick threw for 258 yards in that game and ran for another 34. The G-men rank second in the NFL against the pass and are tied for the league lead in sacks.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew — On the Mohs scale of relative hardness, the Colts' run defense falls somewhere between baby skin and goose-down pillows. Last week, the Indianapolis run defense was a slump-buster for the Titans' Chris Johnson, who had been held to a total of 58 rushing yards and zero TDs in his two previous games before rushing for 111 yards and a TD against the Colts. So what will happen when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Defense attempts to bottle up the hottest running back in the league? Jones-Drew has ripped off six consecutive 100-yard rushing games and has been a tireless workhorse for the Jaguars, who could clinch the AFC South title with a win in Indy this week. If the Jags let M.J.D. hammer away at the Colts' run defense 25 times or so, chances are good he'll carry a lot of fantasy owners to playoff victories.
4. Adrian Peterson — If you had Peterson in your lineup last week and still managed to survive despite his 26-yard game against the Giants, congratulations. But what now? Fantasy football seasons always take some unusual twists and turns. Who could have foreseen that one of the game's premier running backs would be essentially homeless for the final weeks of the fantasy season? The collapse of the Metrodome roof forced the Vikings to play a "home" game at Ford Field last week, and now they could be playing a chilly Monday-night game at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium. Based on their most recent performance, transience doesn't suit the Vikings. I'm not saying the Vikes are prepared to mail it in for the rest of the year, but I was in line at the post office the other day and was waiting behind the Vikings' equipment manager, who bought 53 Christmas stamps. Peterson faces a solid Bears run defense this week, and his QB is TBA: Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson and third-stringer Joe Webb are all dealing with injuries.
5. Ryan Torain — After missing four games with a hamstring injury, Torain re-animated the moribund Washington ground game last week, rushing for a career-high 172 yards. Could he be a superstar in the making? It's worth remembering that Torain had produced two 100-yard rushing games in a row leading up to the Week Eight game against Detroit in which the hammy gave out. It has been a disappointing season for the Redskins, but going to Dallas and beating their archrivals this week would ease some of the pain, so I would expect a reasonable effort out of Washington. And Mike Shanahan undoubtedly realizes that the more he relies on Torain and the less he relies on rapidly aging, increasingly mistake-prone QB Donovan McNabb, the better his chances are of beating the hated Cowboys.
6. Tom Brady — As of midweek, the Sunday-night weather forecast for Foxborough, Mass. called for a light wind and only a 10 percent chance of snow. That almost qualifies as bad news for Brady owners, doesn't it? Brady takes to the snow like a Siberian husky puppy. In blizzard conditions last Sunday in Chicago, Brady threw for 369 yards and two TDs. And who could forget his six-TD performance against the Titans last year in a freak mid-October snowstorm? Brady is insanely hot at the moment, with three consecutive 300-yard passing games and 17 TD passes over his last six starts. By the time Brady takes the field against the Packers on Sunday night, it will have been more than two months since his last interception. But this week, Brady will be up against a Green Bay defense that ranks third in the league in pass defense and almost certainly will try to take the slant routes away from Brady by employing press coverage. Perhaps the greatest concern for Brady owners is the possibility that his Green Bay counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, is recovering from a concussion. If Rodgers doesn't play, it's unlikely the Packers will be able to hang with the Patriots, and the Pats might be able to take the foot off the gas pedal in the second half.
7. Darren McFadden — November was a rather slow month for McFadden, but he seems to be feeling the holiday spirit in December. After producing 127 yards from scrimmage and a TD against the Chargers in Week 13, he exploded for 209 yards from scrimmage and three TDs against the Jaguars last week. Now he's preparing to face the Broncos, who rank 31st against the run and have allowed a league-high 19 rushing TDs. Denver managed to make the Cardinals' Tim Hightower look like vintage Eric Dickerson last week. So there's a pretty fair chance McFadden will leave candy in his fantasy owners' stockings this weekend.
8. Kenny Britt — Britt returned from a hamstring injury last week and looked friskier than his 39 receiving yards would indicate. He only had four receptions and coughed up a costly fumble, but Titans QB Kerry Collins repeatedly looked Britt's way, and why not? Who else is Collins supposed to rely on … Randy Moss? (Yeah, right.) The Titans host the Texans this weekend, and the Texans are perhaps the one team in the league capable of making the 37-year-old Collins look more like the 27-year-old Collins. You might not have been anxious to re-insert Britt into your lineup last week, but all systems are go for this week.
9. Hakeem Nicks — Nicks returned from a leg injury in Week 14 and quickly re-established himself as Eli Manning's go-to guy, catching a team-high seven passes for 96 yards in a game in which the Giants breezed to victory over the Vikings and let their running game do the heavy lifting. The Giants' passing game probably will have to pull its share of the weight in this weekend's important divisional game against the high-scoring Eagles, and with Mario Manningham injuring himself and Steve Smith re-injuring himself, Nicks is just about the last man standing at wide receiver for the Giants.
10. Pierre Garcon — It's hard to tell whether this guy is a star in the making or a tease. He looked like the former last week against the Titans, catching six passes for 93 yards and two TDs. Garcon now has 14 catches and three TDs over his last two games. But Garcon has a nettlesome habit of disappearing just when he seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough. He should (repeat: SHOULD) play a prominent role this week in the Colts' big divisional showdown with the Jaguars, considering Indy's nonexistent running game and the questionable status of Austin Collie.