Now that NFL bye weeks are over, fantasy football rosters should be comprised of players who can be trusted as starters if called upon. Each bench position should have a defined role. You don’t need two kickers anymore, but two or three defenses could be useful.
Fantasy defenses are incredibly matchup-dependent. Unless you have the Chicago Bears on your roster (their performance vs. the 49ers notwithstanding), you’re going to want multiple defenses with favorable matchups in different weeks to maximize your points at the position.
You’ll also want backup NFL running backs with good matchups on the horizon as fantasy lottery tickets rather than that wide receiver that you know you’re never going to start (hello, Nate Washington: owned in 77.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues).
It’s worth noting that Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek has good matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively. Wide receiver Brian Quick of the St. Louis Rams may get more runs toward the end of the season as St. Louis learns what it has in its first second-round pick of 2012.
If you’ve managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite unsatisfactory situations at the wideout position, do yourself a favor: go get Danario Alexander now. Celek and Quick will be around for later use, if necessary.
Those guys are sleepers to keep an eye on.
The main focus of this list is providing running backs and defenses that can be late-season impact performers for fantasy owners based on matchups and/or the violent nature of the NFL.
You never know who’s going to get hurt, which is why handcuffing your No. 1 running back—unless you have a stable of viable alternatives in a vacuum—is an absolute must.
For situations where handcuffs are unclear or the aforementioned rule is ignored in your league, it would be a good idea for competing fantasy owners to snatch up NFL backups who could have big games down the stretch based on matchups.
Getting them now limits the guesswork of whether you’ll secure them on waivers if someone in front of them does get hurt. Knowing one of the following guys is starting against a favorable matchup may even make him more attractive than your incumbent fantasy starters.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount would be in line to face the Atlanta Falcons in Weeks 12 and 17, the Denver Broncos in Week 13, the Eagles in Week 14, the New Orleans Saints in Week 15 and the St. Louis Rams in Week 16.
That’s a nice schedule—something that would make starter Doug Martin a nice trade target if he weren’t already the top-scoring fantasy running back (ESPN standard scoring).
Daniel Thomas of the Miami Dolphins could get starter’s touches down the stretch, as the Dolphins almost seem to be working Reggie Bush out of the offense. Thomas has received double-digit carries in four games this season, including 34 in two games against the New York Jets.
Thomas has a few tough matchups down the stretch (against Seattle, San Francisco and New England twice), but in Weeks 15 and 16, he’s got two great ones. The Dolphins face the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills in those two games.
The Green Bay Packers’ Cedric Benson came into the season as a starter, but because of injury, he has not played a game since Week 5. Green Bay is still handing the ball to guys like James Starks (once) and Alex Green (three times) 20 times a game.
Benson probably won’t be back until Week 15 against the Chicago Bears, which will afford fantasy owners a chance to see him against a legit defense before trusting him later. Benson’s Week 16 and Week 17 matchups would be the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.
A good rule of thumb for choosing a fantasy defense in 2012 is to go with the team that’s facing the Kansas City Chiefs. Two of the three suggestions in this section fit that description at some point during the remainder of this season.
The reason these pickups must be made ahead of time is that everybody knows K.C. has been kind to opposing fantasy defenses. The Cleveland Browns play the Chiefs in Week 14 as well as the Oakland Raiders—who could be a turnover factory at any given time—in Week 13.
The Carolina Panthers play against the Chiefs in Week 13, the San Diego Chargers in Week 15, the Raiders in Week 16 and Philadelphia on Monday Night Football in Week 12.
Miami also has a favorable schedule for a couple of weeks during the fantasy playoffs: The Dolphins play the Jaguars and Bills in back-to-back weeks at home.
Those games will take place in Week 15 and Week 16.