Panthers QB Cam Newton (3,220 yards passing, 23 TD) has accounted for 1,071 total yards (825 passing) and 10 touchodwns in his last three games.
The following countdown serves as a roundabout primer for NFL Week 15, as the fantasy season transitions into full championship mode (playoff semifinals or finals).
This should be yet another supplement to the countless positional rankings and strategy-oriented posts that run daily on The Fantasy Blog.
Enjoy the show!
1. WR Brandon Marshall, Bears
Skinny: Calvin Johnson may be the most prolific receiver in football, but no wideout has been more important—or valuable—to his team's success than Brandon Marshall.
Heading into Week 15, no other Bears pass-catcher has 40 receptions, 300 receiving yards or four touchdowns. Yet Chicago sports a robust 8-5 record and remains on solid ground in the NFC playoff chase. (Having the top-ranked scoring defense helps too.)
Marshall, the current NFL leader in receptions (101), also claims a top-five ranking in targets (157), receiving yards (1,342) and touchdowns (nine). Through 13 games, he also boasts seven 100-yard efforts and 10 outings of double-digit targets.
The only real smudge on Marshall's 2012 resume: his two-catch, 24-yard, zero-TD debacle against the Packers in Week 2.
Think he's been counting down the hours to Sunday's rematch?
2. QB Cam Newton, Panthers
Skinny: The days of Newton lagging behind Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub on the fantasy scale are no more.
In his last three games, the Panthers quarterback has accounted for 1,071 total yards (825 passing) and 10 touchdowns, or roughly 90 points in standard-scoring leagues.
For Week 15, Newton (3,220 yards passing, 23 TDs) has an attractive matchup with the Chargers, the NFL's 22nd-ranked pass defense. On the flip side, San Diego has been one of the league's stingiest clubs against the run.
Plus, it's probably not wise to expect DeAngelo Williams to replicate his 112-yard, one-TD outing against the Falcons last week. The Panthers backs have been maddeningly inconsistent all season.
3. RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Skinny: Heading into his first Saints showdown eight weeks ago, Martin only had one touchdown through five games. Since then, the Bucs tailback has averaged 148 total yards and 1.3 TDs over eight outings.
Through this amazing transformation, Martin (1,612 total yards, 11 TDs) has a reasonable shot at racking up 2,000 total yards—a level of fantasy greatness that Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice couldn't attain in their respective rookie campaigns.
To reach the hallowed 2,000 mark, though, Martin must average 130 total yards over the next three weeks. First up, he draws another Sunday encounter with the Saints, the NFL's worst rushing defense.
1. RB David Wilson, Giants
Skinny: David Wilson would rank as this week's No. 1 free agent even if Ahmad Bradshaw wasn't scheduled for tests on his ailing knee.
The Virginia Tech product's diverse, explosive talents are just too great to ignore.
On Sunday, Wilson ran for 100 yards and two scores in the Giants' thumping of the Saints. He also notched 227 return yards, highlighted by a lightning-fast, kick-return TD in the first quarter.
2. RB Montell Owens, Jaguars
Skinny: With the Jacksonville passing game falling flat, and Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) still teasing all of northern Florida about an injury return (that won't happen), the fate of the Jaguars now rests on Owens' surprisingly sturdy shoulders.
In his NFL starting debut last week, Owens rumbled for 102 total yards and one touchdown against the Jets. Not bad for a special-teams lifer from the University of Maine, huh?
3. WR Jason Avant, Eagles
Skinny: We've been down this road before with Avant, ignoring him for long stretches of a particular season...and then coveting him if/when DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin goes down to injury.
But the fantasy heart wants what it wants, especially after Avant rolled the Bucs for seven catches, 133 yards and double-digit targets last week.
It also helps that rookie QB Nick Foles (381 yards passing, three TDs vs. Tampa Bay) is working diligently to convince the Eagles organization—and Philly's passionate fanbase—of his long-term viability as a starter.
In other words, Foles may need another 100-yard day or amazing one-handed catch from Avant for Week 15.
1. QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Skinny: To the relief of many in the D.C. area, Griffin suffered only a knee sprain in the waning moments of the Redskins' thrilling win over the Ravens.
But does that make RG3 (2,906 yards passing, 24 TDs) a viable candidate to start against the Browns on Sunday? At the time of this writing, it's too early to tell.
However, it's not too early to advise fantasy owners against the notion of starting Redskins backup QB Kirk Cousins in a playoff setting. In emergency situations, I'd rather take my chances with Brady Quinn against the Raiders.
This is coming from a proud Michigan State alum, one who freely acknowledges Cousins as MSU's best quarterback of the last 30 years.
The message here: Life's too short to start an untested rookie QB on the biggest day of the fantasy season.
2. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
Skinny: McFadden (11 fantasy points vs. Denver) incurred a lower-leg injury last week, a possible re-aggravation of what kept him out of the Raiders lineup for four games.
But DMC practiced with his teammates on Monday, fueling speculation that he'll be ready for the sad-sack Chiefs on Sunday. And that's a good thing...since McFadden is a healthy bet for 85 total yards and one score for Week 15.
3. QB Jay Cutler, Bears
Skinny: Cutler (2,495 yards passing, 16 TDs) left last week's game in Minnesota with a neck injury but quickly stated that he'd be ready for practice later in the week.
It's Packer Week, and the Bears need this game to bolster their NFC playoff chances...so why wouldn't Cutler be under center come Sunday?
1. WR Josh Gordon, Browns
Skinny: For Weeks 1-12, the Browns rookie didn't register one outing of six or more catches. But in the last two weeks, he has a superb two-game tally of 14 catches, 20 targets, 202 yards and one touchdown.
Of his last seven games, Gordon has also collected seven-plus targets five times, including two double-digit efforts.
This all sets up well for Gordon's most pressure-packed test—posting stellar numbers against the Redskins, the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense, when fantasy owners expect him to dominate.
2. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
Skinny: This endorsement recognizes Moreno's rock-solid numbers over the last three weeks (361 total yards, one TD).
It's also an acknowledgment of how any modestly successful running back has the capacity for 120 yards and one score against the Ravens' shaky defense.
For the season, Baltimore has collectively allowed 115 or more rushing yards eight times.
3. TE Brandon Myers, Raiders
Skinny: Let's have some perspective on Myers before tossing him into the free-agent bin of erratic tight ends.
Yes, he pulled down one measly catch (for seven yards) against the Broncos last week, and consequently, a large handful of owners likely swore Myers off as a starting commodity for the rest of time.
But in the kid's previous seven games, he registered four outings of double-digit targets, four games of six-plus receptions and four total touchdowns.
Here's one more trend to embrace: Since Week 7, Myers has averaged nine catches, 12 targets, 72 yards and one touchdown during odd-numbered weeks. As luck would have it, he's due for another odd-week reckoning on Sunday (against the Chiefs).
1. WR Donnie Avery, Colts
Skinny: At first blush, Avery had an eminently forgettable day against the Titans last week (three catches, 31 yards). But there are two forward-thinking positives to consider here:
**The speedy Colt collected nine targets on Sunday, marking the ninth time he's posted eight-plus targets this season. (Not bad for a No. 3 receiver.)
**Avery's middling effort against Tennessee would have looked much better if he hadn't dropped a beautiful Andrew Luck rainbow pass in the end zone.
2. WR Nate Washington, Titans
Skinny: With the enigmatic Kenny Britt surging and Chris Johnson primed for a meeting with the NFL's 29th-ranked rush defense, Nate Washington has a great shot at posting top-30 PPR numbers against the Jets this week.
Through 13 games, Washington has collected six or more targets eight times. Of his six home outings, he has crossed the PPR-elite threshold of six catches, 95 yards and/or one touchdown four times. And for the two home misses (Weeks 6 and 8), Big Nate still averaged four catches, eight targets and 63 yards.
Another reason to love Washington in PPR circles: In good times or bad, Jake Locker (660 total yards, two TDs for Weeks 13-14) seemingly has no conscience when tossing the ball around the field. That's the perfect attitude for a young quarterback whose best days are ahead.
3. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders
Skinny: There's a reason why Carson Palmer targeted Heyward-Bey 60 times in Oakland's final six games last year: For whatever DHB lacks in consistent production...he makes up for in streaky magic.
Heyward-Bey (six touchdowns in his last 17 games) is way overdue for a double-digit-target, 100-yard explosion over the next three weeks—most likely against Kansas City (Sunday) or Carolina (Week 16).