Week 11 brings us to the stretch run of the NFL season, with three more weeks until most fantasy playoffs begin. Whether you’re a lock to make the playoffs or a bubble team trying to get in, all the data accumulated by your players from the first 10 weeks should give a good sampling of what is likely to happen in the next three weeks.
Tough decisions have to be made about certain high-drafted players who haven’t produced, but you’re in a quandary because deep in your heart you know if you sit them that they’ll end up having their game of the year.
Players such as receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall and quarterback Matt Schaub have been disappointing this season. It’s hard to think about taking them out of a lineup, but if you have consistent performers on the bench — or free agents available — who continually outproduce them, the writing should be on the wall.
Because the bye weeks are finished, there should be a few extra roster spots available for players used only for those off weeks who are expendable, such as the backup kicker or tight end. Other than the running back position, there are still quite a few players out there who can make a difference. With everything on the line to make or break your season, the pivotal moves have to happen now.
Here’s a look a some of the top free agents available this week:
■ WIDE RECEIVER — Mario Manningham, Giants: Steve Smith is expected to be out until early December, and Manningham has taken over the starting position. Last week he put up numbers worthy of a No. 1 receiver: 10 catches for 91 yards and a score. He has scored in three of his last four games.
Mike Thomas, Jaguars: Even before catching last week’s Hail Mary pass, Thomas had gained 99 yards on seven receptions. He has scored a touchdown in the Jaguars’ last two games, his only two scores of the season.
■ RUNNING BACK — Mike Goodson, Panthers: Even though his playing time is based on the return of Jonathan Stewart (concussion), Goodson should be starting this week. Considering many fantasy teams are using part-time players as their No. 2 or No. 3 backs because the pool of players is so small, Goodson getting 20 carries should be attractive.
Other players to consider who have produced lately: quarterbacks Troy Smith and Josh Freeman, running backs Keiland Williams and Tim Hightower and receivers Nate Washington and Steve Breaston. Williams had a three-touchdown game against the Eagles last week, but Clinton Portis and Ryan Torain could be back this week.
■ HIGH-SCORING GAME OF THE WEEK — Denver vs. San Diego: You might look at the Chargers’ No. 2-ranked defense and think this is a bad spot to start some of your high-scoring Broncos, such as Kyle Orton, but before doing so analyze whom the Chargers have played this season. The defensive statistics are somewhat of a mirage because of the teams they’ve played. Outside of Tom Brady and Schaub, the Chargers’ ranking has been helped by playing several teams in transition with identity problems at quarterback.
This week the Chargers’ defense faces Denver’s No. 2-ranked passing offense. In a similar situation last year on a Monday night, the Broncos scored 33 points at San Diego. This year’s version of the Broncos is more pass-happy with many more options, making Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and Knowshon Moreno good starts this week.
The Chargers will score, too, and it might be a good week to start Ryan Mathews, who has struggled to gain the confidence of his coach. They also get back Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, giving quarterback Philip Rivers a boost with his receiving corps, despite Antonio Gates still being questionable.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director who covers all sports for multiple publications. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7@gmail.com.