Listed below are updated rankings for the four major skills positions, defense/special teams and the top 100 players, accounting only for projected fantasy value from Week 14 forward. These rankings are published every Tuesday, meaning they won't always reflect news that breaks late in the week. For week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup, check back on Wednesday.
These will be the final year-to-end rankings for the 2010 season, encompassing fantasy value for all players in Weeks 14-17, most leagues' fantasy playoffs. Remember, every Wednesday for the remainder of the season, we'll provide week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup.
• Matchups become an integral part of player evaluation at this late stage of the season, so to begin this week's column, I thought I'd take an updated look at the most and least favorable remaining schedules, using the same formula in my last schedule analysis column of Nov. 18. You can read more about my methods for calculating strength of schedule in that column, but to summarize, these rankings are based upon an average NFL team facing that team's schedule. An individual player's talent has quite a bit to do with performance as well, so don't take the Jacksonville Jaguars' No. 1-ranked quarterback schedule as a reason to expect David Garrard to be a top-10 fantasy option the rest of the way. This only means Garrard has the most favorable set of matchups. It's a good tool to use when considering whether to roster similarly valued players.
• There's legitimate cause for concern if you're a Kyle Orton owner, what with him coming off his worst performance all season and with the Denver Broncos' decision to fire coach Josh McDaniels only hours after he indicated he'd likely stick with Orton as his quarterback despite the team's 3-9 record. But speaking to the latter point, don't forget that backup/Wildcat guy Tim Tebow was a McDaniels project; Tebow was a first-round pick of McDaniels in April. It could be argued that Eric Studesville, promoted from running backs coach as McDaniels' replacement, might reside in the Orton camp, not the Tebow one, though the answer to that question won't be clear until Studesville first addresses the media (and maybe not even then). Orton has performed like a top-10 fantasy quarterback for the majority of the year, and his schedule ranks among the 10 most favorable, but with the Orton-Tebow picture growing potentially clouded, his ranking is in as much flux as anyone's. I can make as good a case for him being a top-eight option as him being in the teens. One point in Orton's favor: He's signed for 2011, so there's a better chance the transition happens one year from tomorrow than tomorrow.
• I'm growing increasingly skeptical that Tony Romo is going to make another game appearance this season, in spite of the Dallas Cowboys' three-wins-in-their-past-four-games, save-face late-season strategy. ESPNDallas.com reports that Romo, who has resumed throwing, is still feeling discomfort despite Nov. 22 X-rays on his broken left collarbone showing progress. Romo "has trouble laying on his left shoulder and can't really drive the ball when he throws it in practice." Considering the severity of the injury and the prospect of setbacks, the Cowboys probably shouldn't push him, which is why Jon Kitna gets a healthy boost in the rankings. A point in Kitna's favor: Every one of his four remaining opponents (PHI, WAS, @ARI, @PHI) ranks in the upper half of the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
• Again, we'll kick things off with the most and least favorable remaining schedules:
Five most favorable schedules:
Atlanta Falcons (Michael Turner)
Dallas Cowboys (Felix Jones/Tashard Choice)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LeGarrette Blount)
Denver Broncos (Knowshon Moreno)
San Francisco 49ers (Brian Westbrook/Anthony Dixon)
Five least favorable schedules:
Chicago Bears (Matt Forte)
Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson)
Carolina Panthers (Jonathan Stewart/Mike Goodson)
Detroit Lions (Jahvid Best)
Philadelphia Eagles (LeSean McCoy)
• Turner's schedule is particularly appealing; remember that this stage of his 2009 season was a lost one, but flash to today and he's shaping up as durable as anyone. Two more matchups versus the Carolina Panthers -- fourth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs -- vault him to the top of the list above, though at the same time, that schedule as well as Turner's 2009 injuries demonstrate why he's one of the few critical running backs to handcuff (Jason Snelling). You're going to start whoever faces the Panthers in Weeks 14 or 17.
• Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy stressed in his Monday news conference that he prefers to use a three-halfback rotation including Brandon Jackson, James Starks and Dimitri Nance (when Nance is healthy) looking forward, despite Starks' 18 carries to Jackson's four in Week 13. While I like Starks as one of the week's top pickups, keep both McCarthy's comments as well as the rookie's lengthy absence due to a hamstring injury in mind when planning for your playoffs. He's a sleeper, but might struggle to get consistent touches.
• While it stands to reason that the Titans cannot possibly perform as poorly on offense in the season's final four weeks as they have the past two, their struggles raise significant questions about Chris Johnson. If future opponents emulate the Jacksonville Jaguars' Week 13 game plan, loading the box to contain him, Johnson isn't going to be the man you can count on to win a playoff matchup. His remaining matchups (IND, HOU, @KC, @IND) include a slew of poor run defenses, but wasn't the Jaguars' front supposed to be similarly poor?
• Weeks 10-11 hotshot Mike Goodson evidently suffered a sprained AC joint during Sunday's game, but besides the mere injury issue, don't overlook his minimal involvement during the vast majority of the contest in which he was healthy. He had only three touches, wasn't targeted once and spent much of his time on kick returns, while Jonathan Stewart managed his best outing of the year and brought his Weeks 12-13 yards-per-carry average to 5.8. This might officially be Stewart's backfield, not that either back's schedule was encouraging to begin with.
• Anytime Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones speaks, people listen, and according to the Dallas Morning News, Jones has apparently granted Week 13 standout Tashard Choice an exemption from his previous special-teams duties. "He's about to earn himself a spot where he doesn't have to make up for his special team shortcomings," owner/GM Jerry Jones told the paper. "As the second back, it's not incumbent on him to play on special teams, so that can change the picture with him as a second back. After the game I said, 'you paid for the insurance my man.'" Jones' talent evaluation skills might be somewhat questionable -- Choice was always a more deserving runner than the role in which the Cowboys had buried him the first 12 weeks -- but at least it seems Choice is finally getting his chance. He faces a favorable schedule and might match or exceed Felix Jones' carry total the final four weeks.
• Here are the most and least favorable remaining schedules, noting, of course, the most significant fantasy options at wide receiver for each of the listed teams. The only players listed are the ones I consider viable fantasy options:
Five most favorable schedules:
Philadelphia Eagles (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin)
Carolina Panthers (Steve Smith)
Washington Redskins (Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong)
Seattle Seahawks (Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu)
San Diego Chargers (Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Vincent Jackson)
Five least favorable schedules:
Atlanta Falcons (Roddy White)
Kansas City Chiefs (Dwayne Bowe)
Cincinnati Bengals (Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco)
New England Patriots (Wes Welker, Deion Branch)
New York Jets (Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards)
• Kenny Britt (hamstring) nearly suited up for Week 13, wasn't listed on the Titans' Monday injury report (they didn't practice but listed him as a would-be participant) and probably will be back for Week 14, barring a midweek practice setback. It's good timing; the Titans desperately need him back in the lineup, with a quarterback dealing with his own injury issues (Kerry Collins), a star wideout relegated to decoy duties (Randy Moss) and a running back (Chris Johnson) who has been a total nonfactor in back-to-back games. Hopefully you've stashed Britt under the hopes he can help; he'll be a risky play this week, but with a strong showing might be primed to explode against the Houston Texans in Week 15.
• While it's unclear whether Vincent Jackson (calf) will be able to suit up this week, his status warrants careful attention. When healthy, he's a clear starter for the Chargers, a top-20 capable fantasy wideout, and look at that tremendous schedule (KC, SF, @CIN, @DEN). I'm ranking Jackson in the same spot I did a week ago because I'm thinking 2 1/2 games is his over/under, and if he plays in only two of the remaining four weeks, his value suffers on the grander scale. But make no mistake: He's one of this week's most in-flux rankings.
• Sticking with the injury theme, the Newark Star-Ledger reports that both injured New York Giants wideouts, Steve Smith (pectoral) and Hakeem Nicks (leg), are progressing well with their recoveries, and appear set for returns in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. Smith isn't going to return at 100 percent, though, telling the paper that "it still hurts, but I'm going to have to deal with that for the rest of the year." It's for that reason he and Mario Manningham are ranked comparably, being that they might continue to serve as the rare wide-receiver handcuff. Nicks, meanwhile, began running on Monday and wants to resume practicing on Wednesday, meaning we should get a clearer sense of his status for the final three games this week.
• Strength of schedule is generally least relevant when it comes to tight ends, since role/opportunity/involvement (read: targets) is paramount at the position. For example, look at which team has the most favorable remaining schedule: The Denver Broncos, who don't have any viable fantasy tight ends. Still, matchup analysis helps everywhere, so here's the breakdown:
Five least favorable schedules:
St. Louis Rams (Billy Bajema)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Kellen Winslow)
New Orleans Saints (Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey)
Seattle Seahawks (John Carlson, Cameron Morrah)
Green Bay Packers
• Credit Antonio Gates for being a heck of a gritty player; despite playing through torn plantar fascia that he admitted to the San Diego Union-Tribune is immensely painful, he managed six catches for 73 yards and a score in Week 13. "I deal with so much pain after the game. It discourages me so much," he said. "It's so painful that I say, 'I can't keep doing this.' The beauty of it is I pray about it and I wake up Sunday morning, and that's usually when I know if I'm going to play or not." It seems likely Gates won't be 100 percent the remainder of the year, and could be a weekly game-time decision -- somewhat an issue being that three of the Chargers' remaining four games begin after 1 p.m. ET on Sunday -- but so long as you've got a viable backup to him on your roster, he's well worth counting on. It's open to debate whether he or Jacob Tamme is the most valuable tight end to own the remainder of the year -- term them "1" and "1A" -- but it's a huge drop-off to No. 3.
• I'm ranking Todd Heap as if his hamstring won't prevent him from playing in Week 14, though it's entirely possible he will not play. Part of it is that this has been an especially painful season for tight ends; the depth pool has been whittled down significantly over the past two months, so I'd prefer to play for the weekly upside ahead of "ho-hum," five-point consistency totals. It's all in how risk-averse you are: If you'd prefer someone you can slot in and not worry about, then drop him 4-5 spots. But there are always weekly pickups/plug-ins: Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Kevin Boss, to name three from the past few weeks. Here's another: Ed Dickson, who would stand to benefit if Heap should sit out this week.
Five most favorable schedules: Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles.
Five least favorable schedules: Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints.