1. Danario Alexander — Just about anyone who's been involved in fantasy football over the last several years could have told Chargers general manager A.J. Smith that Robert Meachem wasn’t going to pan out in San Diego. But Alexander, who sees his surgeon more frequently than most people see their dentist, has emerged as the big-play guy Smith was hoping Meachem would be. Alexander caught five passes for 134 yards last week, including an early 80-yard TD. He now has been productive in two consecutive games, and if his papier-mâché knee ligaments continue to hold up, Alexander could be a useful fantasy asset in the weeks to come. The Chargers will be in Denver this week, where they’ll try to avenge an unsightly Week Six meltdown against the Broncos in which they blew a big lead and lost 35-24 in front of their bewildered home crowd. Alexander could be an inviting target for Philip Rivers this week if the Broncos elect to cover Chargers WR Malcom Floyd with ace CB Champ Bailey.
2. Mike Wallace — Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury clearly doesn’t bode well for Wallace’s fantasy value. The question is whether it merely takes a bit of air out of Wallace’s tires or deflates them completely. It’s a big step down from Roethlisberger to backup Byron Leftwich, but one thing Leftwich can do is throw the ball a country mile, so Wallace owners can at least hope that No. 17 is able to haul in a few of those long-range Leftwich missiles while Big Ben is away. The Steelers host the Ravens Sunday night in the first of the two annual bloodbaths between these bitter rivals. With Antonio Brown expected to be out with an ankle injury, it’s imperative that the Steelers get the ball into Wallace’s hands. But without Brown to be concerned about, the Ravens undoubtedly will give Wallace a great deal of attention in obvious passing situations.
3. Robert Griffin III — The Redskins’ dynamic rookie quarterback is coming off a bye week that might have been just the break needed to recharge his batteries. RG3 has thrown just four TD passes in his last six games, and though he has six rushing touchdowns for the season, he’s had none over his last three games. Another sign that RG3 may have been running low on juice: After completing better than 60 percent of his passes in each of his first seven games, he failed to do it in each of his last two, with an overall completion rate of 53.4 percent in those games. Griffin hasn’t been getting much help from his pedestrian pass-catching corps (or in this case, pass-catching corpse). But perhaps RG3 and his receivers will be invigorated by a home crowd this Sunday and also by a matchup with the flagging Eagles, whose pass defense seems to be springing new leaks every week.
4. Reggie Bush — Bush has an oh-so-tasty matchup against Buffalo’s matador defense this weekend, but to what extent will he be able to indulge in the nectar? Bush, due to become a free agent at the end of the season, appears to be falling out of favor with the Dolphins’ coaching staff. He was benched in last week’s lopsided loss to the Titans after coughing up an early fumble, finishing with a mere four carries for 21 yards. Daniel Thomas has been getting more work for Miami, and he and rookie Lamar Miller could potentially elbow Bush out of the picture. Bush owners would love to see what their man could do with a healthy amount of work against the Bills. In his most recent matchup against them, in mid-December of last year, Bush went off for 203 rushing yards and a touchdown. Buffalo currently ranks last in run defense and has given up a league-high 16 rushing TDs.
5. Nick Foles — Michael Vick’s concussion gives the 3-6 Eagles a convenient excuse to make a much-anticipated (some would say imminent) QB change, but can the rookie from the University of Arizona do any better behind Philly’s ragged offensive line? Foles gave a decent account of himself in long relief against Dallas last week, completing 22-of-32 passes for 219 yards, with one TD pass and one interception, in the Eagles’ 38-23 loss to the Cowboys. Foles is an interesting option this week for fantasy owners using a streaming-quarterback strategy. The Eagles visit the Redskins, who are allowing 301.7 passing yards per game and have given up 20 TD passes. Owners of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek will be interested in getting clues as to whether Foles adds value to, or subtracts value from, the Philly pass catchers going forward.
6. Steven Jackson — Who could have imagined that this noble old warhorse’s first 100-yard rushing game of the season would come against the seemingly impregnable San Francisco run defense? S-Jax served as a battering Ram last week, running 29 times for 101 yards and a touchdown (with a long of run of just 10 yards). It was the first time since Week One that he had been fed 20 or more carries. Is this a trend, or will Jackson go back to splitting carries almost evenly with rookie Daryl Richardson this Sunday when the Rams host the Jets? It would be interesting to see what Jackson could do with two dozen carries against the Jets’ 30th-ranked run defense. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, sort of a younger version of Jackson, pounded the Jets for 124 rushing yards and a TD last week.
7. Steve Smith — This hasn’t exactly been a dream season for the Panthers’ pugnacious little wideout. Smith has scored only one touchdown all season, and after opening the year with a pair of 100-yard games, he has recorded only one since. In Carolina’s loss to Denver last week, Smith caught a single pass for 19 yards (on seven targets). Smith has been relegated to No. 3 WR or flex status by many of his fantasy owners, but he’ll find his way into a lot of lineups this week by virtue of a favorable matchup against the Buccaneers in Charlotte. Tampa Bay ranks dead last against the pass and gave up 337 passing yards and three TD passes to the Chargers last week.
8. Aaron Rodgers — Rodgers has had some interesting trips to Detroit in recent years. Last Thanksgiving, in a game best remembered for Ndamukong Suh’s stomping of Packers OG Evan Dietrich-Smith, Rodgers threw for 307 yards and two TDs in a 27-15 Green Bay victory. In 2008 and ’09, Rodgers led blowout victories over the Lions in the Motor City, amassing more than 300 passing yards and throwing three TD passes in each of those games. Rodgers’ 2010 visit didn’t go as well: The Lions won, 7-3, and Rodgers was knocked out of the game with a concussion. With the Packers paying them a visit this week, the Lions are hoping that last week’s bye cooled off Rodgers a bit. He has been a touchdown machine lately, with 22 TD passes over his last six games.
9. Jimmy Graham — The big man is heating up. Graham enjoyed his first 100-yard game and his first multiple-TD day of the season last week, catching seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 31-27 victory over the Falcons. Since missing a Week Seven game with an ankle injury, Graham has scored four TDs in his last three outings. The Saints will be in Oakland this weekend, and Graham gets to face a Raiders pass defense that was torched for 341 yards and three TDs by Joe Flacco and the Ravens last week. After letting Dennis Pitta put together a stat line of 5-67-1, the Raiders hardly appear ready to handle a hot Graham.
10. Reggie Wayne — Wayne has faced the Patriots 10 times over his illustrious career, but he’s probably never encountered a Patriots pass defense in a greater state of disrepair than the one he’ll see when the Colts visit New England this weekend. The Pats rank 29th against the pass, giving up an average of 285.3 yards through the air. They’ve allowed 19 TD passes, which is one more than Tom Brady has thrown. Wayne has 55 career receptions against New England for 734 yards and five TDs, and considering how the Patriots were picked apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills last week, Wayne stands to fatten those numbers this weekend. Wayne’s old pitch-and-catch partner, Peyton Manning, had some memorable duels against Brady and the Pats over the years. There’s little doubt that rookie QB Andrew Luck will lean heavily on his veteran receiver when he faces New England for the first time.