It's that time of year in fantasy football.
Thirteen weeks of games have been played, and in many fantasy leagues the regular season has reached its conclusion, with only the best teams in those leagues moving on to the fantasy postseason.
The playoffs is a different animal, a series of one-and-done showdowns where there's no margin for error if you're going to hoist your league's trophy when all is said and done.
That means that the last thing that fantasy owners can afford is for one of their starters to lay an egg at the worst possible time, but unfortunately for the players on this list, the stage is set for that very thing to happen.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
After throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns last year Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was drafted as a top-five player at his position in many fantasy leagues this season, but so far the fourth-year pro has been a relative disappointment, ranking 10th among quarterbacks to this point in 2012.
However, Stafford has been on a hot streak of late, with 1,020 passing yards and five touchdowns over his past three starts, but Stafford recently told Marc Sessler of NFL.com that that hot streak isn't a result of any big changes in the way he plays the game or throws a football.
"I feel pretty good about (my mechanics)," Stafford said. "I'm not a robotic-type quarterback. I play off feel. I don't try to do anything. It just happens the way it happens, whether that's throwing it overhand, underhand, sidearm, left-handed. I go out there and play and try to put the ball in a good spot."
Whatever the reason for the uptick in Stafford's stats the odds are against it continuing, as Stafford's fantasy playoff schedule is the fourth-worst for quarterbacks and the team just lost wide receiver Ryan Broyles to an ACL tear.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots haven't exactly had the reputation of a team that will hurt you on the ground over the past several seasons, but that has changed this season, with the team ranking eighth in the NFL in rushing.
A large part of that lofty ranking can be attributed to the hard running of second-year pro Stevan Ridley. Ridley has topped 1,000 yards rushing on the season, is averaging a very respectable 4.5 yards a carry, and has scored a touchdown in five straight games, and Ridley told The Boston Herald that he's proud of what he's achieved this season.
“A thousand yards is a great accomplishment,” Ridley said. “I’m very thankful. I’ve worked hard, and the offensive line is working hard. I’d say in a million years, I never thought I’d be here, but I’m here now and dreams can be accomplished. I still have a lot of work to do, and I’m going to keep grinding it out. I’m happy for now. A thousand yards, I’m pretty impressed, I have to say.”
With that said the stretch run isn't going to be an easy one for Ridley, who faces the fifth-worst schedule for fantasy running backs from Weeks 14-16, including matchups with the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers over the next two games.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills
After entering the season with greatly increased expectations it's been another season of disappointment for the Buffalo Bills, and that disappointment has extended to fantasy owners of wide receiver Steve Johnson.
The fifth-year pro, who was drafted as a higher-end fantasy WR2 in most leagues, is on pace to miss the 1,000 yard benchmark for the first time since 2009. On top of that mediocre production Johnson is also battling a calf injury, although Johnson downplayed the injury's severity according to The Associated Press via ESPN.
"I'm not worried too much," said Johnson, who has five touchdowns and leads the team with 55 catches and 705 yards. "I know I'll be out there on Sunday, even if it was worse than what it is now."
As if Johnson's injury and the onset of the bad weather that besets Buffalo every winter weren't enough to give you pause about Johnson's fantasy playoff prospects, here's another tidbit. Johnson's schedule the rest of the way is the fourth-worst for wide receivers from a fantasy perspective.