1. Bryce Brown — The Bryceman cometh. Making a spot start in place of LeSean McCoy, who sat out with a concussion, Brown was Week 12’s high fantasy scorer among running backs, carrying 19 times for 178 yards and two TDs in the Eagles’ Monday-night loss to the Panthers. Brown’s fantasy value could shrink upon McCoy’s return to the lineup, but as of Wednesday, the chances of McCoy being back for Philly’s Week 13 Game in Dallas didn’t sound promising. Even if McCoy is able to return, Brown still might get enough carries to have flex value. (And really, what’s the incentive for the Eagles to rush McCoy back into action with their season circling the drain?) After facing the soft Carolina run defense last week, Brown will have to contend with the Cowboys, who rank a respectable 13th in run defense.
2. Cecil Shorts — Not only does hhave a fun name, but Shorts is on the (ahem) short list of most pleasant surprises of the fantasy season. He’s now has caught a TD passes in three consecutive games, and he’s had 100-plus receiving yards in three of his last five games. The Jacksonville passing attack has not only become functional since Chad Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert as the team’s starting quarterback, it’s bordering on prolific. Even with rookie WR Justin Blackmon starting to blossom in recent weeks, there might be enough receiving yardage and TD catches to keep both Shorts owners and Blackmon owners happy when the Jaguars visit Buffalo on Sunday.
3. Colin Kaepernick — Kaepernick’s second NFL start was a smashing success, as the dynamic second-year signalcaller led the 49ers to an impressive road win over the Saints, completing 16-of-25 passes for 231 yards, with one TD and one INT. He also ran for 27 yards and a touchdown. Alex Smith owners were rarely tempted to start their dink-and-dunk passer over any mid-tier quarterbacks (Tony Romo or Andy Dalton, for example), but Kaepernick is creating interesting lineup dilemmas for some of his owners. He looked sharp as a passer against New Orleans last week, and his running ability makes him potentially explosive. But is there a chance that Kaepernick could be yanked and replaced by Smith if he struggled early on in the Niners’ game at St. Louis this weekend (or in any other game in the coming weeks)? The potential for a quick hook makes Kaepernick a bit of a risk, but a compelling one nonetheless.
4. Matt Schaub — The Texans appreciate your concern about Schaub’s groin, which is doing just fine after an encounter with Ndamukong Suh’s foot, but thanks for asking. As for the quarterback’s fantasy outlook, it’s getting rosier by the week. For most of the season Schaub had been steering one of the most conservative offenses in the league, but the Texans have opened up the throttle lately. Schaub hadn’t attempted more than 37 passes in any of Houston’s first 10 games. He has attempted 103 passes in the last two, totaling 842 passing yards and six TDs. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Texans let Schaub keep slinging it this weekend against the Titans, who rank 27th against the pass and have given up 22 TD tosses.
5. Ryan Broyles — Tired of Titus Young’s shenanigans, the Lions banished the mercurial receiver last week, bringing to mind the introduction of “The Odd Couple,” with Felix Unger’s wife handing him his belongings before kicking him out of their apartment. But before Tempestuous Titus could fully settle into Oscar Madison’s bachelor pad, the Lions allowed him to return. The question is whether he’ll get his starting job back. During Young’s Week 12 eviction, Broyles was targeted 12 times and caught six passes for 126 yards in Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day loss to Houston. With Matthew Stafford helming a potentially explosive passing attack, and with Calvin Johnson commanding heavy defensive attention, Broyles could get a ton of passes thrown his way and become a significant fantasy asset (especially in PPR leagues) if Young can’t escape the doghouse. Even if Young immediately reclaims his starting job, Broyles would merit flex consideration when the Lions host the Colts and their suspect pass defense this weekend.
6. Knowshon Moreno — Surprise! Just about everyone figured that rookie Ronnie Hillman would get the biggest value bump among the Denver running backs after Willis McGahee tore his MCL in Week 11, but Hillman owners were thrown for a loop when news broke shortly before kickoff that Moreno would get the start. Moreno ran 20 times for 85 yards against the Chiefs and also caught four passes for 26 yards. It would be a stretch to say it was a performance that completely reignited Moreno’s once-promising pro career, but it at least provided some badly needed kindling. We’ll get a better read on Moreno’s rest-of-season fantasy value this weekend when the Broncos host the Buccaneers, who lead the NFL in run defense, allowing just 81.5 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.
7. Pierre Garcon — Garcon is coming off his first productive game since Week One, but is he back for good? The fleet receiver has been dealing with a foot problem all season, and it’s still causing him pain, though he intends to play through it. If Garcon is able to stay on the field, he and Robert Griffin III could make beautiful music together. But if the foot issue flares up again, Garcon owners could get a near-donut out of a starting WR spot, which could be a season-ending disaster at this point in the year. That risk is probably worth taking this week, with the Redskins playing host to the Giants, whose sketchy pass defense ranks 25th in the league.
8. Ahmad Bradshaw — Will Bradshaw’s workload increase significantly now that Andre Brown has been placed on injured reserve with a broken leg? Or will the Giants try to prevent a flare-up of Bradshaw’s recurring foot problems by giving more carries to mistake-prone rookie David Wilson, or perhaps to newly signed RBs Kregg Lumpkin and Ryan Torain? After getting 91 carries during a four-week workload spike that ran from Week Five to Week Eight, Bradshaw’s touches had tapered off over the past three weeks, with the Giants ramping up Brown’s usage following his return from an earlier injury. Bradshaw owners will no doubt be pleased if their man stops getting vultured at the goal line. Last week against the Packers, Bradshaw scored his first TD since Week Seven, punching it into the endzone from 13 yards out. But Brown had been handling most of the goal-line work lately. Bradshaw may get to handle those duties when the Giants visit Washington for a Monday-night divisional showdown.
9. Aaron Rodgers — Rodgers owners have to be at least mildly concerned, if not flat-out terrified, by what they saw during the Packers’ blowout loss to the Giants on Sunday night. Repeatedly harassed by a heavy pass rush, the reigning MVP was unable to make downfield throws against Giants’ shaky secondary, save for a long first-quarter TD pass to Jordy Nelson. Even with that 61-yard gain, Rodgers finished with only 219 passing yards. The Packers are expected to get WR Greg Jennings back from a groin injury this week, giving Rodgers a ridiculously deep arsenal of pass-catching talent. But Jennings, Nelson, Randall Cobb, etc., will go to waste if Green Bay’s injury-ravaged offensive line can’t keep the heat off. The Packers host the Vikings, whom Rodgers has riddled for 18 TD passes in his last six games against them.
10. Roddy White — White has gone five games without a TD, though he’s amassed 100-plus receiving yards in three of his last four. White’s fantasy owners were probably expecting a fourth consecutive 100-yard game last week, with the Falcons going up against the Buccaneers’ league-worst pass defense, and with Julio Jones playing on a tender ankle, but White checked in with five catches for 57 yards. While the golden opportunity to scorch the Bucs has passed, White can now don his Mardi Gras beads and take a crack at the division-rival Saints. He had seven catches for 114 yards in Atlanta’s Week 10 loss in New Orleans, but White also riled his division rivals by saying afterward that the Falcons had handed the game to their hated rivals. No doubt some of the Saints’ defenders remember that comment and would love nothing more than to turn White’s ribs into andouille sausage.