Chris Johnson, RB, TEN – Johnson followed up a 190-yard rushing performance in Week 12 by running for 153 yards and two touchdowns last week. He finally appears to be back. Johnson has averaged 7.5 YPC over that two-game span and has eclipsed 150 yards from scrimmage in three of his past four contests (although he gained just 28 total yards in the other). An easier schedule has helped, but Johnson’s play has really picked up as well, as his explosion appears to have returned. In fact, Johnson has broken a whopping 10 tackles over the past two games; to put that into perspective, Ray Rice, Shonn Greene and Cedric Benson each have broken a total of 15 tackles all season. With upcoming matchups against the Saints and Colts, Johnson suddenly looks like a top-five fantasy back again.
C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF – Spiller totaled 102 yards and ran for a touchdown (another was nullified by a shaky penalty) Sunday, marking his best game as a pro. It was his first score since Week 1, but it looks like he’s going to be given an opportunity to act as Buffalo’s lead back with Fred Jackson done for the season. It’s not a large sample, but Spiller’s YPC mark is quietly up to 4.7 on the year, and he can also catch the ball out of the backfield pretty well. He should be considered no worse than a flex play down the stretch.
Miles Austin, WR, DAL – Austin (hamstring) returned to practice this week, and after sitting out the long end of his original timetable (he hasn’t played since Week 9), the hope is he returns close to 100 percent. There’s no guarantee he won’t aggravate the injury that has bothered him since the preseason, but Austin is likely to jump right back into the starting lineup Sunday night against a Giants secondary that has allowed the fourth most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season. Laurent Robinson, meanwhile, is dealing with a shoulder injury and should now become the Cowboys’ third receiver. While Robinson has scored seven touchdowns over the last six games, he is a somewhat risky starting option with Austin back in the fold.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, ATL – Gonzalez, averaging 6.8 catches and 78.5 receiving yards over his last four games, is having his best year since coming to Atlanta in his age-35 season. He’s on pace to score nine touchdowns and has quietly scored the third most fantasy points among tight ends in 2011. Remarkably, he has the second most receptions in NFL history.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NYG – Bradshaw returned to action Sunday for the first time since Week 8, and while his performance was underwhelming, he didn’t aggravate his foot injury and could see more carries moving forward. The Giants have struggled mightily with run blocking this season, and their schedule isn’t easy over the next three games, but Brandon Jacobs’ hamstring injury could give Bradshaw an even bigger role this week. Bradshaw is back on the fantasy scene.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, IND – Orlovsky threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, averaging 9.5 YPA while completing 81.1 percent of his passes. Most of the production came during garbage time against a shaky defense that was mostly playing backups, but Orlovsky looked like a clear upgrade over Curtis Painter. With a poor rushing attack and terrible defense, Orlovsky should be able to rack up meaningless stats in a similar fashion down the stretch, although he’s not an advisable fantasy start in Week 14 in Baltimore. At minimum, his promotion to the starting lineup could make Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne usable again.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAX – Jones-Drew totaled 188 yards and a touchdown on just 26 touches Monday night, likely making many fantasy owners happy during an important Week 13 game heading into the playoffs. Jones-Drew deserves a ton of credit, as he’s on pace to finish the season with 1,912 yards from scrimmage while playing on a team that has averaged just 12.7 points per game – the second fewest in the NFL. Not bad for someone who entered the year with a big question mark regarding the condition of his knee.
Matt Forte, RB, CHI – Forte left Sunday’s game after suffering a sprained MCL, and while he hopes to return for the NFL playoffs, fantasy owners can expect to be without him for their postseason. It’s obviously a huge blow, as Chicago is likely going to implement a committee in Forte’s place. Marion Barber will likely see 12-18 carries per game while remaining the main goal-line option, so he could be a useful flex option. However, Kahlil Bell will see plenty of work himself, especially on passing downs.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, NE – Green-Ellis has three touchdowns over the past two games, but there’s no way he can be trusted in your fantasy playoffs. His usage is way too unpredictable, highlighted by the six carries he received at home against the Colts on Sunday as 21-point favorites (he didn’t see a single snap in the second half). I wouldn’t feel great starting him moving forward.
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU – Johnson was looking good Sunday, racking up 97 receiving yards before departing with yet another hamstring injury. His latest setback is to his left leg – not the right one that cost him time earlier – but he’s unlikely to play in Week 14, as the Texans will want to be sure he is 100 percent come playoff time. The injury isn’t nearly as seriou ‘ s as one to his right leg, but fantasy owners have to question his durability at this point. Johnson has now missed significant action in three of the past five seasons.
Fred Davis, TE, WAS – Davis was suspended for the final four games of the year after testing positive for marijuana, which is significant since he was performing like a surefire starting tight end option. Dynasty leaguers (and those who draft him in 2012) need also take note, as another positive test would result in a full year ban by the league.
Josh Freeman, QB, TB – Freeman missed Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, and his status is in doubt for Week 14 as well. Freeman had thrown six picks over his previous three contests, and Josh Johnson wasn’t a disaster replacing him, so Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t suffer a dramatic downgrade. Freeman only threw likely at Wednesday’s practice, so there’s a real chance Johnson gets another start Sunday.
James Starks, RB, GB – Starks was carted off the field in Week 13 with an injury, which marked the third straight game he’s hurt his ankle. He’ll likely miss Week 14’s tilt against the Raiders, further highlighting a frustrating campaign from the sophomore back. Despite playing for the NFL’s top offense, and backfield mate Ryan Grant looking done, Starks has topped 75 rushing yards just once this season, and he hasn’t reached the end zone since Week 1.
Mark Ingram, RB, NO – Ingram totaled 148 yards and two touchdowns on just 31 touches over the past two games, but he has been sidelined during practice this week with a turf toe injury. Turf toe injuries typically require a couple weeks off for running backs, so don’t expect him to play in Week 14.