We've hit that point in both the NFL and fantasy regular seasons when it's clear there are teams who aren't going to make it.
This year, in both realms, it seems there is a larger chunk of teams holding on than normal, but there are still some that can't be helped.
If you happen to have one of those teams, all you can do is play hard and hope to make a good show of it by hosing another team's playoff chances.
On the other hand, if you are on the cusp or in the playoffs and jockeying for positioning, every game counts and you don't want to leave a point on the table.
Let's take a look at some matchups worth taking advantage of, as well as some adjustments you can make to your roster to shore things up for the last few games of the regular fantasy season.
Let's start with a non-injury concern which is worth tracking—Dwayne Bowe's arrest for speeding and possession of marijuana.
Head coach Andy Reid will "wait for all the facts to come in" and Bowe will play this Sunday.
He may face suspension from the league, but that too will wait until after a full investigation.
Bowe hasn't been all that fantasy relevant this year. Quarterback Alex Smith won't throw beyond 15 yards often, and Bowe has struggled to break free of coverage anyway.
Still, it's worth tracking since he's at least a WR3 for most weeks.
It's fair to wonder if Cutler's mobility was hurt by the still-healing groin injury and the result was a bum ankle.
I actually have had a few people ask about what to do with Cutler, and in one case, an unlucky soul who had both Cutler and Aaron Rodgers wondered whether he needed to cut Rodgers, as Cutler has a timetable and Rodgers doesn't seem to.
Right now, the latest is that Rodgers expects to be back by the Week 12 game against the Minnesota Vikings, per ESPN Wisconsin, though Week 13 on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions might be more realistic.
Of course, he might not be back until after that, which makes him all but useless to your fantasy season.
So who is more valuable? Well, Cutler appears to most likely be the first one back, while Rodgers seems like a role of the dice. If at all possible, I would say hang on to both.
If you can do anything to make sure you can hold on until Rodgers comes back—even if it's for your championship in Week 16—do so.
Because once he gets on the field, he's so much better than Cutler, it's not close. In fact, insert almost anyone for the word "Cutler" and Rodgers is still better than him.
Speaking of Manning, the Broncos quarterback was clearly hobbling at the end of the win over the San Diego Chargers.
Manning only participated in the walk-through portion of Wednesday's practice, though he is expected to practice in a limited fashion Thursday and/or Friday.
He's fully expected to play on Sunday in a vital AFC West matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Finally, Ben Tate will probably get the start for the Houston Texans this Sunday, despite his broken ribs. How much he'll play or how effective he'll be is up for debate, so keep Dennis Johnson on your bench just in case.
We're through the looking glass, people.
Or at least the bulk of the bye weeks.
With just Dallas and St. Louis on the bench, the impact is minimal and we can start looking toward playoff positioning and shoring up your roster for when you make it.
We'll be getting to that a little later. For now, here is your bye-week player bench. There are some very good players here, so it's about the quality you'll lose, not the quantity.
QB: Tony Romo, Kellen Clemens
RB: DeMarco Murray, Zac Stacy
TE: Jason Witten, Jared Cook
|Week 4||Green Bay , Carolina|
|Week 5||Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington|
|Week 6||Atlanta, Miami|
|Week 7||Oakland, New Orleans|
|Week 8||Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston|
|Week 9||Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, Arizona, San Francisco, Jacksonville|
|Week 10||Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets|
|Week 11||Dallas, St. Louis|
|Week 12||Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle|
Case Keenum, Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders
Undrafted free-agent quarterback Case Keenum has thrown seven touchdowns in three starts with absolutely no interceptions. While Keenum has struggled at times and made some rookie mistakes, he has managed to avoid putting his team in bad spots. He goes up against an Oakland Raiders team which has been pretty inconsistent defensively. Against the pass, the Raiders are ranked No. 22, having allowed 18 touchdowns and only generating six interceptions.
This is a good start for Keenum, who has been a nice surprise from both a fantasy and NFL standpoint.
Carson Palmer at Jacksonville Jaguars
Carson Palmer hasn't been very good this season, but neither have the Jacksonville Jaguars, their victory over the Tennessee Titans notwithstanding. Overall, the Jaguars weren't that impressive in the game, and the Titans lost Jake Locker in the second quarter, which hurt them.
Consider also that the Jaguars allowed backup Ryan Fitzpatrick—cold off the bench—to throw for 264 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Over the last two games, Palmer has thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions. If you're in a bind, you can start Palmer and expect some decent production.
Philip Rivers at Miami Dolphins
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was a shockingly mediocre play last week against Denver. His receivers let him down a bunch, as did his offensive line, which allowed him to be pressured all day and sacked four times. There is a chance the Miami Dolphins will be able to pressure him as well, but against Tampa Bay, they really had the look of a team which was exhausted by the tumult of the previous weeks.
After the pressure from Denver, you can also expect head coach Mike McCoy to come up with some plays designed to protect Rivers by getting the ball out of his hands quicker. Then his receivers just need to catch the passes.
Ultimately, this comes down to two things.
First, despite the ability to come back and fight against one of the worst teams in the league, the Dolphins looked a bit broken Monday night. That will, unfortunately for their fans, probably carry over into this weekend.
And second, the Chargers are much better than they showed on Sunday, especially Rivers.
He will be a solid start this coming Sunday.
Chris Johnson vs. Indianapolis Colts
While the Colts have been good at holding individuals under 100 yards on the ground—no running back has topped 100 yards in the last three games—they have allowed plenty of yards to whole backfields in that span.
The St. Louis Rams backfield tandem of Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham totaled 134 yards and a touchdown.
With Arian Foster down, the Houston Texans' Ben Tate (with four broken ribs) and Dennis Johnson had 117 yards on the ground.
What this means is there will be plenty of opportunity for Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson to gain yards this week. The Titans defense should keep the game close, which means Johnson will get carries, as well as some targets in the passing game.
Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Johnson had 72 total yards. He should easily surpass that this week against a defense which isn't quite what it looks like on paper.
Plug him in as a No. 2 running back, and you should walk away from the weekend happy.
Chris Ivory at Buffalo Bills
Will the New York Jets continue the win-loss-win-loss pattern they've had all season long? Will they suffer a letdown after a bye week following a tremendous and unexpected win against the New Orleans Saints?
More importantly, will running back Chris Ivory?
Ivory was handed the bulk of the carries starting in Week 7 against the Patriots and, so far, has handled them well. Save for the debacle in Cincinnati in Week 8—when everyone was terrible on the whole team—Ivory has looked solid, topping 100 yards in both his other starts.
The Buffalo Bills are currently ranked as the No. 22 team in the NFL against the run, allowing 117.3 yards per game. While they allow a lot of yards, they're surprisingly stingy in the red zone, only allowing three touchdowns on the ground this year.
Only the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens have allowed fewer. That's impressive company.
That stat gets helped by the fact that you can score almost at will on them through the air. Their 21 passing touchdowns allowed is the worst total in the league.
So it's not as though they're human walls on the goal line—it's that they're sieves against the pass.
On the other hand, the Jets aren't a great passing team, have a lot of wide receiver injuries and prefer to run the ball.
All of which is to say that Ivory should have no problem putting up yards on this defense and could be in good shape to score the fourth touchdown the Bills have given up this year.
He's a great flex play and a pretty good low-end No. 2 running back.
Eddie Lacy at New York Giants
The New York Giants have actually been playing well defensively the last few weeks. The offense hasn't been so steady.
In fact, if it wasn't for the defense, they might have lost to the Oakland Raiders in Week 10.
However, the Giants still ended up allowing Raiders running back Rashard Jennings to run for 88 yards and quarterback Terrelle Pryor to run for another 19 and a touchdown.
With undrafted rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien under center, running back Eddie Lacy will once again have a lot of carries. Last week, he saw a lot of tough stacked fronts and the offensive line was inconsistent blocking for him, but he still had 84 yards total.
The Giants will also dare the Packers to beat them in the air by stacking the line against Lacy, but he's shown he can still prosper when that happens. As he's involved in the passing game, he'll also put yards up there as well.
Lacy will have plenty of success despite the uncertainty of the offense around him and should be a solid start as a No. 2 running back this weekend.
Percy Harvin vs. Minnesota Vikings
You might feel like you should wait and see how returning Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin looks before starting him. After all, it's his first game back from injury and the first game with quarterback Russell Wilson—both things which could hamper his numbers.
Take that feeling, roll it up in a ball, drop it in your fireplace and use it for kindling.
Forget that the Vikings defense is a mess. Forget that the Seahawks are desperate for receiver help, though Golden Tate has played very well. Forget that Russell Wilson has been succeeding with any receiver regardless of skill level since coming into the league.
This is a game in which Percy Harvin is going to want to light up his old team.
You can bet that head coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks offense will use him to do just that.
Don't go overboard. He'll be on a snap count, and so he's not a No. 1 fantasy receiver this week. But he will be a good flex start and has the upside to be much more.
Kendall Wright vs. Indianapolis Colts
The Tennessee Titans' Kendall Wright is the best fantasy wide receiver you're probably not using.
While not scoring touchdowns or putting up 100-yard games, Wright has been very consistent in his production. Since Week 5, Wright has totaled between 69 and 98 receiving yards each week, often adding another five or six points in receptions for point-per-reception leagues.
He's not a big-time receiver, but he's putting up regular points.
With studs like Hakeem Nicks and Vincent Jackson struggling, you need that reliability.
On top of that, it appears like quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looks for Wright a lot. Targeted nine times, Wright caught seven balls and was the most-productive receiver on the field. (We'll talk more about the targets in a different slide.)
Sure, he's not going to put up No. 1 or No. 2 receiver numbers.
But as a No. 3 or flex, Wright will get you points every week and could be in for a bigger-than-average total with the Titans potentially having to keep pace with a Colts offense which can move the ball.
Cecil Shorts vs. Arizona Cardinals
Despite the win over Tennessee, Cecil Shorts did not put up a lot of points for either his fantasy owners or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He faces a tough secondary this week but will also see more targets than the four he had in Week 10.
Given that he managed to reel in 42 yards on just two catches, even just four targets is something he can work with.
Shorts has been pretty good this year, once again proving that whether or not Justin Blackmon returns to Jacksonville, Shorts can be "the man."
Plug him in as a low-end No. 2 receiver or a solid No. 3/flex.
Garrett Graham vs. Oakland Raiders
Since Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels and quarterback Matt Schaub have gone down, the production from the tight end position has been a little scarce.
Garrett Graham stepped in for Daniels but, after a big first game, has been hit or miss—mostly miss.
Despite that, this week is a good one to start him in if you are in bind.
The Raiders like to give up yards to tight ends.
Put aside last week's game against the New York Giants, because Eli Manning is just bad this year and the Giants haven't targeted their tight ends much this season.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Raiders defense allowed tight end Brent Celek to catch three balls for 27 yards and a touchdown and rookie tight end Zach Ertz to catch five balls for 42 yards and a touchdown.
While Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins will get plenty of Case Keenum's attention, they'll also get the attention of the Raiders' secondary. Sure, that won't make anyone quake in their cleats, but it will open things up for Graham underneath.
It won't be a huge day, but we can see five or six catches for 50 to 60 yards and a shot at the end zone.
If you need help this week, Graham is an OK option.
Heath Miller vs. Detroit Lions
Pittsburgh's Heath Miller was beginning to look like his old, reliable self—and then Buffalo happened and Miller fell off the grid again.
The inconsistency of the entire offense is hurting Miller, who doesn't look like the player he used to be overall this season. As I said above, we've seen it here and there, but he's just not consistent.
However, as with Graham, if you're in a bind and need a tight end, you can plug Miller in this week.
The Detroit Lions are very likely going to put some points on the board, which means that the Steelers will need to do likewise. The Lions will concentrate on Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, which means guys like Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller will get some extra targets.
Cotchery has been getting a lot of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's attention the last few weeks, so the Lions will keep an eye on him as well.
Which means Miller will get more room to find the seam in the defense and split it.
Again, he's not someone you want to have to start, but if you need to, be confident that this week he's in position to produce some decent numbers.
Coby Fleener at Tennessee Titans
At some point the Indianapolis Colts decided they really, really, really needed to run the ball. It hasn't gone well.
If only they had a burgeoning superstar quarterback, then they could abandon the run.
Hopefully the coaching staff will wake up and smell the (Andrew) Luck and that will provide more and more opportunities for tight end Coby Fleener.
Then it's up to Fleener to be consistent—10 targets resulting in just four receptions was a poor result last weekend, and while some of the targets were bad throws by the quarterback, there were some Fleener just needed to haul in.
After an embarrassing loss to St. Louis last week, expect the Colts offense to come out shooting and for Fleener to be a big part of that. Expect him to be more reliable with his targets as well, as he had been the weeks prior when he was catching 67 percent of his targets, according to FootballGuys (subscriber link).
The higher number of targets we saw last week should happen again, only this time he should catch a lot more of them.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel didn't look all that great against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this week brings him face to face (probably quite literally) with one of the best defensive lines in football. Muhammad Wilkerson is playing Pro Bowl football right now, and Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Sheldon Richardson are also playing at a high level.
Under pressure, Manuel is going to have a tough time getting the ball past Antonio Cromartie and rookie Dee Milliner, who bounced back from a torching at the hands of Cincinnati to play well against the Saints.
All this is coming from a defense fresh off a bye week, which means two weeks of scheming to get to the quarterback. Expect this to be one of the better fantasy days the Jets will have this year.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Which Andy Dalton will the Cincinnati Bengals bring to the stadium on Sunday?
The quarterback who was coming off three straight 300-yard outings—including a torching of a normally very solid New York Jets defense?
Or the guy who looked awful against the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, throwing six picks?
Sadly for Bengals fans, it looks like it will be the second, not the first.
This is good for fantasy owners of the Browns defense, though, as it is heating up at almost the perfect time. It played pretty well in the loss to Kansas City in Week 8 and held Baltimore down to 18 points in Week 9.
Coming off a bye against a division foe which has a quarterback who appears to be on the ropes is a formula for some turnovers and maybe some sacks.
San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
The much-maligned Miami Dolphins offensive line nearly escaped Tampa Bay without giving up a sack, but instead folded at the wrong time and gave up back-to-back sacks to end any hope Miami could win the game on Monday night.
The Chargers have a pretty good defense, even if Peyton Manning dropped four touchdowns on them.
Heck, Manning does that to almost everyone.
And while Washington put up 30 points on them, they kept Robert Griffin III and the passing offense out of the end zone and managed to generate an interception off him as well.
They absolutely shut down Andrew Luck in Week 6 as well.
The Miami Dolphins are a sinking ship. Yes, they may galvanize at some point in an "us vs. them" mentality, but really, if that was going to happen, it should have happened last Monday night and didn't.
Even at home, this is a sloppy team with a quarterback who is struggling under constant pressure, a high-priced receiver who doesn't seem to care and a bunch of "who the heck is that?" guys trying to make due.
Expect some sacks, some turnovers and a low score this week.
If you missed out on a "stud" defense because you were mining for gold elsewhere, you can still find defenses with upside to finish the season.
Here is a list of teams which can be had on a lot of waiver wires and can either stand on their own or, more conservatively, work together as a Team Defense by Committee (from here on out referred to by TDB).
Three of them you can find on the preceding page as well.
Mix and match as you like.
San Diego Chargers for Week 11 (Dolphins), Week 13 (Bengals), Week 14 (Giants) and Week 16 (Raiders)
The Chargers are the shakiest of the bunch, and a group I like best as part of a TDB.
We talked about the Miami Dolphins already, but to reiterate, expect plenty of sacks and potentially some turnovers.
The Bengals look to be a team spinning out of control with a quarterback who is tossing a ton of interceptions. If that changes, the Chargers lose a bit of luster, but Eli Manning is turning over balls at a record pace and the Raiders are, well, the Raiders, so the rest of the matchups are great
Overall, this defense looks like one which can put up some nice fantasy points to close the year.
New York Jets for Week 11 (Buffalo), Week 13 (Dolphins), Week 14 (Raiders) and Week 16 (Browns)
As I said in the last slide, I like the Jets' matchup this week quite a bit. Then add in a Dolphins team which will always come to play the Jets, but will struggle to keep the defensive line away from its quarterback, and a Raiders team which as allowed 36 sacks to date, and the Jets are a defense which might stand on its own to close your fantasy season.
The Cleveland game in Week 16 could end up being shakier than it looks now. The Browns allow their quarterbacks to get hit a lot (71 quarterback hits to date) and sacked a bunch (30 so far), but we only have a vague sense of what Jason Campbell can do as quarterback.
So that offense might end up better than we think.
But aside from that question mark, this is a good defense to own, with 27 sacks to its credit this year.
I'm also intrigued by Josh Cribbs as a kick and punt returner. That could add some points in leagues which score for it.
Cleveland Browns for Week 11 (Bengals), Week 12 (Steelers), Week 13 (Jaguars) and Week 16 (Jets)
Aside from the Bengals, which we covered on the previous page, the Browns have a nice matchup against a Steelers offensive line which is getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger killed.
The Steelers let the Buffalo Bills sack the quarterback four times last week (in a win!). The New England Patriots sacked him five times, as did the Oakland Raiders.
That's a great defensive matchup.
The Jaguars are the Jaguars and, like most of the juicy matchups, have a poor offensive line which has allowed a ton of sacks (31 to date).
Finally, let's talk the New York Jets. This one could go either way by the time Week 16 rolls around because it sort of depends on Geno Smith, whose play will in turn be determined in large part by the offensive line.
Neither has been consistent this year. The offensive line allowed just two sacks the week before the bye and, consequently, Smith threw no interceptions. Against Cincinnati in Week 8, the line allowed five sacks, the defense got behind and Smith threw two picks.
If the Jets want to make the playoffs, they need to settle down both the line and Smith. Whether they can on a consistent basis will tell you if the Browns are worth a start in Week 16.
My bet is the Browns will be.
The Browns are potentially a stand-alone fantasy defense, but would be excellent in a TDB.
Arizona Cardinals for Week 11 (Jaguars), Week 14 (Rams) and Week 15 (Titans)
The Arizona Cardinals have put together a solid defensive unit, and have done so a little under the radar.
They're ranked a middle-of-the-road No. 13 against the pass, but they also have an impressive 12 interceptions and 26 sacks.
The Jaguars are always a good matchup for adding to the totals for both, and with Kellen Clemens at the helm, St. Louis' yards-against totals will probably be fairly low for the Cardinals defense.
The Titans' Ryan Fitzpatrick looks about as bad as he did in Buffalo, so the Week 15 matchup is attractive as well.
Pair this with another defense and you should be golden.
Buffalo Bills for Week 11 (Jets), Week 13 (Falcons), Week 14 (Buccaneers), Week 15 (Jaguars) and Week 16 (Dolphins)
It's hard to say whether I like Buffalo for Week 11 or not. It's a bit risky because, as I said earlier, which Jets team comes out?
The Jets upset the New Orleans Saints, and that usually means a letdown the next week. On the other hand, coming out of a bye, they could play pretty sharp.
Still, once you decide on this week, there's little doubt the rest of the way.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan has tossed a few interceptions here and there and has been sacked enough for me to like the Bills against him.
The Jaguars are, as I have said before, a pretty good start for any defense.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins may not be playing for anything in Week 16, and even if they are, you can bet the offensive line will still be struggling.
What's going to be key going forward is picking out the guys just starting to heat up so you know you have your Nos. 2 and 3 or flex spots covered.
So I looked up the targets over the last four weeks (from Week 7 to Week 10) to see who is getting an increase in passes thrown their way.
Here are a few guys I found who seem to be catching the eye of their quarterbacks—and should be catching your eye.
Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sanders has been targeted 30 times over the last four weeks. That number is dragged down by a Week 7 which saw him have just two balls thrown his way, but is more than balanced out by the weeks following, as he was targeted 11 times twice and six times last week.
With the exception of last week, Sanders has thrown up some good numbers. His quarterback is looking for him and he's caught 60 percent of his targets over that span.
Sanders is going to continue to be a solid flex, with the potential to be a decent No. 3 or even No. 2 receiver on occasion.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers
James Jones has returned and technically knocked Boykin to the No. 3 option for the Packers. However, Randall Cobb isn't able to come back until Week 15 at the earliest and might not be ready even then.
So Boykin will be relevant for a while longer.
This might not have been the case if Seneca Wallace was under center. While Boykin was targeted 30 times over the four weeks I examined, the two weeks Wallace was in charge, he saw just seven passes.
Undrafted free-agent rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien looked for Boykin a ton last week after Wallace went down. While you can expect more targets for Jordy Nelson and James Jones as Tolzien gets more comfortable with them, Boykin was a consistent and steadying presence for the young quarterback.
Boykin is getting targets and, until Rodgers and/or Cobb come back, should be a great No. 3 receiver.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
Wright only played three games in the last four weeks because of the Week 8 bye Tennessee had, but he saw 26 targets over those weeks, catching 19 of them. That's a 73 percent catch rate, which is pretty darn impressive.
He's not getting touchdowns (nobody in Tennessee is), but he is putting up pretty consistent yards. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick loves him, too, so he might even see his targets increase.
He's a solid flex, with the upside to be a nice No. 3 receiver, though in point-per-reception leagues, he becomes a really solid No. 3 with upside.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Steve Smith has been, for the most part, very disappointing this season.
The last four weeks have seen a steady increase in targets from just six in Week 7 to 11 in Week 10.
He doesn't always reel them all in, and very rarely for more than 50 to 60 yards, but as the Carolina offense has improved, his consistency has as well.
Once upon a time—really just a year ago—Smith was a decent No. 2. Those days are gone, but he should work as a nice flex option from here on out, and quarterback Cam Newton has definitely been looking for his veteran early and often the last few weeks.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.