Time to start planning for the stretch run

So the trade deadline is approaching in your fantasy league. With time growing short, you want to know what players are going to come through for you when your fantasy playoffs hit. Well, thanks to the research staff here at NFL.com (specifically Bill Sudell, who has spent the last couple of days drowning himself in statistics since his beloved Eagles lost again), we have the players you should target because they have the most favorable schedules in Weeks 14-16 – when your fantasy playoffs are happening. The number in parenthesis is the average fantasy points allowed by that player’s remaining opponents. And conversely, the players you should avoid trading for because their matchups are incredibly difficult. Let’s begin with the QB’s.

Quarterbacks

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick (18.19)
2. Tom Brady (17.38)
3. Jay Cutler (17.23)
4. Tim Tebow (17.17)
5. Matt Moore (17.00)

I’m the first guy to say I’m not sold on Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think the league has figured him out which is why he’s not been as good as he was earlier this year. But is he worth a backup slot on your team and maybe a start if he begins lighting it up? Sure he is. Also, Jay Cutler and Tim Tebow become even more fantasy-friendly down the stretch. Tebow should be owned everywhere . He may be a tough get but Cutler should be available pretty cheaply in a trade.

Buyer beware: The five QBs with the toughest opponents the rest of the season are: Curtis Painter, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Colt McCoy and John Skelton. Only Rivers and Manning have fantasy value, and while you’re not benching them just don’t count on 20-plus PPG every week the rest of the way. They’ll still be great – just not as great.

Running backs

1. DeMarco Murray (22.21)
2. Arian Foster (22.16)
3. Shonn Greene (20.89)
4. Ray Rice (20.17)
5. James Starks (20.09)

This furthers my previous statement that DeMarco Murray will be a top five fantasy RB the rest of the season. I know Jerry Jones says he’s excited to see him and Felix Jones together in the backfield but forget it. Murray is a superstar, and he’ll get all the carries. Shonn Greene has been pretty solid the last few weeks, upping his YPC average. As the weather gets colder he’ll be even more of a bell cow runner and is probably pretty easy to acquire in a trade. James Starks? He has zero trade value so if you have the means, spend a flier on him – he’s probably the easiest guy to trade for considering his lack of production until now.

Buyer beware: The RBs with the toughest opponents the rest of the season are: Any Colts RB, Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy and Ryan Mathews. This is particularly scary if you’re depending on Wells or Mathews (who have pronounced injury histories as well), and Lynch. All these players you can sell pretty high on right now, so if you can acquire a need player or two somewhere else? Go for it.

Wide receivers

1. Brandon Marshall (24.62)
2. Jabar Gaffney (24.16)
3. Eric Decker (24.05)
4. Steve Johnson (23.98)
5. Earl Bennett (23.40)

Suddenly the Redskins aren’t such a fantasy wasteland, are they? That means pick up either Gaffney or Santana Moss because he’s been waived. Then wait for him to come back from injury, or trade for him pretty inexpensively. The same can be said for Earl Bennett. Marshall and Decker could potentially be had in a deal (unless their owners are reading this column) and you won’t have to give up the farm for them. Steve Johnson I’m a little nervous on because he’s been quiet for a long time, but that means he’s also likely gettable. I’m just not sold on his resurgence.

Buyer beware: The WR with the toughest opponents the rest of the season are: Mike Williams (TB), Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Lloyd, Roddy White, and Larry Fitzgerald. Honestly, Fitzgerald and Nicks (as long as he’s healthy) will be started even if they were being double-covered by Darrelle Revis and Deion Sanders. But watch out for Lloyd and White, two guys who have had star-crossed seasons. White has never really gotten it going and Lloyd may not find things as easy the final few weeks.

*Next week I’ll focus on some trading tips that will help you pull the trigger on the trade you need to make to help further (or salvage) your fantasy season. Believe it or not, there’s some commandments that are regularly broken that make it much more difficult to trade than it should be. Trust me, it’s easier than you think to get the player or players you have to have.

See Jason Smith on NFL Fantasy Live, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Red Zone Channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12 a.m. ET/9 p.m. PT.  He writes fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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