Unconventional Wisdom: Second-tier starters who may prove vital
Bucs have been hurt this year by pass-cattching backs such as Jonathan Stewart
Over his last four games Percy Harvin has 278 yards receiving and two TDs
Deion Branch, like most of the Pats offense, could have a big week vs. Colts
Quick question before we get to fantasy matters. Why did the Chiefs claim Kyle Orton if he isn't starting this week?
Presumably, when the Chiefs snagged Orton off waivers, he was going to be the guy to save the offense and help them chase down the Raiders and outlast in the Chargers and Broncos in the AFC West. Two weeks later, they find themselves three games behind Oakland, yet Orton will remain on the sidelines in his second game with the team.
I understand the argument for starting Tyler Palko last week. It would have been a serious challenge for Orton to join Kansas City on a Tuesday and start the following Sunday. We all remember what happened to Carson Palmer. But if the Chiefs have any hope of making up a three-game deficit in five weeks, don't they have to start Orton this week? Let's not forget that before his turnover troubles cost him his job in Denver, he posted 7,455 yards, a near 2:1 TD:INT ratio, and 7.2 yards per attempt. No, not world-beating numbers, but a solid line nonetheless. Three months ago, most everyone agreed he was a clear starter over Tim Tebow. We aren't talking about an NFL nobody here. This is a proven commodity in the league. A weapon like Dwayne Bowe alone makes Orton league average at worst, and that's way more than can be said for Palko.
Speaking of playoff pushes, Week 13 is the final week of the regular season for a large swath of the fantasy football community. If you're in this group, now is not the time to be the Todd Haley of your league. You never know when a borderline call in your starting lineup might make the difference. As you prepare to get your best lineups active this week, take a look at a few players you may want to give a second look before keeping on your bench, depending on your circumstances.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers -- It's a pretty safe bet that at least one of Stewart or DeAngelo Williams will have success against the Buccaneers, one of the league's friendliest run defenses. But if you go beyond the 4.8 yards per carry and 15 rushing scores allowed by Tampa Bay, you can see why Stewart is the Panther you want this week. Every good pass-catching back the Bucs have played this year has hurt them through the air. Among Jahvid Best, Matt Forte, Darren Sproles, Arian Foster, only Forte had less than 40 yards receiving, although he did have a 36-yard reception down to the 4-yard-line. Foster had four catches for 102 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown. Sproles caught 13 passes for 103 yards and a score in two games against Tampa Bay. Best had four grabs for 42 yards. Even James Starks had six catches for 53 yards.
Stewart's 36 receptions this year are 11th best in the league, and he's had a lot fewer snaps than most of the guys in front of him. If you've lined up in an NFL backfield against the Buccaneers this season, you've probably had a fun day. With his pass-catching abilities, Stewart becomes especially dangerous to them. Not only do I prefer him to his teammate Williams, I'd start him over Roy Helu and Willis McGahee.
C.J. Spiller, Bills -- At a time when Buffalo's real season is coming apart at the seams, Spiller stands ready to save fantasy seasons. It almost seems fitting that he's only getting a chance after the Fred Jackson injury, which felt like the final nail in Buffalo's 2011 coffin. Unlike Jackson, Spiller is basically a pure volume play. Tennessee's defense is just about league average in terms of yards per carry allowed (4.3) and above average in rushing touchdowns allowed (five). Still, if you're considering someone in Spiller's range, you're essentially betting on a touchdown. As long as this game doesn't get out of hand in either way, Spiller should be a factor from the opening kick. When digging this deep, that's the sort of guy I want, above all else. I'd go with him ahead of Brandon Jacobs and Maurice Morris.
Percy Harvin, Vikings -- Harvin has really come on strongly in the last four weeks, quickly developing a quality on-field relationship with Christian Ponder. In those four games, Harvin has 24 catches for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Denver's defense has stiffened against the pass the last few weeks, keeping Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez and Philip Rivers in check. Still, they've allowed 7.4 YPA on the season along with 19 passing touchdowns. A lot of people seem to be expecting the Broncos to roll into Minnesota and roll out victorious, but I like the Vikings to show up this week, and I think they're going to have to lean heavily on the pass, whether or not Adrian Peterson plays. Harvin's only a borderline starter in a 12-team or deeper league, but I do prefer him to Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Mike Williams.
Deion Branch, Patriots -- Peyton Manning's injury may have taken the usual luster off this year's installment of Patriots-Colts, but there are still going to be plenty of fireworks from one offense in this game. Even with Manning on the sidelines, I have to believe the Patriots will enjoy dropping a huge number on their inter-division rival. We already saw an elite offense put up video game numbers on the Colts when the Saints scored 62 back in Week 7. I don't see much standing in the way of the Patriots doing the same. If we know anything about Tom Brady, everyone will get involved. You want Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowki in your lineup every week, but you definitely want to add Branch to that mix this week, too. I'd start him over Reggie Wayne, Julio Jones, Michael Crabtree and Eric Decker.
Chat with me on Twitter, @MBeller.