As sad as it is to say, the football season is winding down. We’ve watched 13 straight weeks of football both in real life and on the pretend field, and each second of it has been more spectacular—or gut-wrenching—than the last. Some of our real-team loves are Super Bowl contenders. Or playoff hopefuls. Or they suck on a level you can still barely comprehend. Or they’ve won six straight games led by a quarterback who may or may not already be the greatest football player who lived.
But to be honest, none of that matters yet. The fantasy playoffs are happening right now, and if you’re reading this column, your squad is probably still in it. If your team is stacked and you cruised into the playoffs, you might scoff at the players listed below. But if you’re anything like me, your team snuck into the playoffs and is hopelessly desperate to find someone who can score you points this week. So whether you’re still looking for the right replacement to jump-start your team or you’re looking to tear apart the consolation bracket, glue your eyes to this bad boy for the next 10 minutes of your life.
Same deal as usual here: these aren’t player you necessarily wanted to start this week, but due to injury, byes or general suckery, you have to. It’s your backup plan. Here’s a rundown of some of the top widely available fill-ins by position and which guys they’ll be better than this week.
Carson Palmer vs. Green Bay
Yahoo: 60 percent owned, ESPN: 57 percent owned
He’s got a glorious matchup, to say the least. It’s always Aaron Rodgers this and Aaron Rodgers that with the Packers, but their defense still isn’t anywhere near on par with their offense. Which is good, because Palmer may have to put up 50 throws to keep up with Aaron “four touchdowns per game” Rodgers. The Raiders need this game in the AFC West race, so you can safely expect Palmer to throw the ball enough to put up some gaudy fantasy numbers.
Matt Hasselbeck vs. New Orleans
Yahoo: 54 percent owned, ESPN: 51 percent owned
Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. Burn me a third time, Matt Hasselbeck, and you earn a spot on The Backup Plan blacklist. Three straight weeks of single-digit standard fantasy scoring has been a real punch in the man-parts, but here’s hoping he finally turns it around against the Saints. New Orleans is putting up massive offensive numbers while stopping nobody in the process, meaning the Titans will have to throw to keep up.
Alex Smith vs. Arizona
Yahoo: 51 percent owned, ESPN: 38 percent owned
Alex Smith injects as much excitement into your fantasy team as your cousin’s new boyfriend injects awkwardness into your holiday family gatherings, but he’s not the worst if you’re quarterback-desperate. He put up 30+ standard points last week and had 22 the last time he faced the Cardinals, so he’s in a good position to give you another solid, if unspectacular, performance.
Toby Gerhart vs. Detroit
Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 44 percent owned
Consider this moot if Adrian Peterson decides he’s ready to go on Sunday. But if Peterson is out, there will be no moot here. With an average of 70 rushing touchdowns per game and one score in his past two, Gerhart has been everything we all wanted Peyton Hillis to be this season: good at football, a white running back and not a complete jerk. If Gerhart gets the start again this week, he should continue to get workhorse touches.
Guys he’s better than this week: Steven Jackson, Jonathan Stewart
Marion Barber vs. Denver
Yahoo: 52 percent owned, ESPN: 38 percent owned
Bet you hoped you never had to start this dreadlocked hack in fantasy again. Though he’s mostly been a source of constant disappointment, Barber is back in our lives after an MCL injury to Bears’ star Matt Forte. The matchup isn’t great, but as is The Backup Plan’s mantra: “opportunity begets skill.” He’ll get enough touches to make an impact, especially near the goal line. He’s worth a look, especially if you own Forte.
Guys he’s better than this week: Cedric Benson, Brandon Jacobs
Yahoo: 39 percent owned, ESPN: 28 percent owned
Not sure whether this is an insult or something worse than an insult, but McCluster seems something like a C.J. Spiller-lite type player. He’s small and quick, making him hopeless when he runs between the tackles but solid when he gets the ball out in space. Plus, he’s RB and WR eligible in most fantasy circles. He’s been getting a lot of touches in a lot different ways the past few weeks, making him a decent fill-in, especially in PPR leagues.
Guys he’s better than this week: Ryan Grant, Donald Brown
Damian Williams vs. New Orleans
Yahoo: 25 percent owned, ESPN: 11 percent owned
At this point, there’s no reason to think he won’t keep doing what he’s doing. Williams has put up an average of 52 yards per game over his last six. He has three touchdowns in that span, as well as seven targets in the red zone. Those might not be the best numbers, but you’re currently scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel right now. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Guys he’s better than this week: Dwayne Bowe, Plaxico Burress
Doug Baldwin vs. St. Louis
Yahoo: 28 percent owned, ESPN: 21 percent owned
In the past four weeks, Baldwin has 50, 50, 60 and 21 yards receiving, respectively. Here’s hoping last week was the outlier. Baldwin’s role in the Seahawks’ offense should continue to expand now that Sidney Rice is out for the year, and hopefully it will expand into the end zone this weekend. The Rams are on a mission to stop absolutely nobody defensively this season, so Baldwin could see pay dirt in an absolutely awful MNF matchup.
Demaryius Thomas vs. Chicago
Yahoo: 10 percent owned, ESPN: 7 percent owned
Just when Eric Decker was becoming a consistent fantasy force, Demaryius Thomas steals his thunder, much the chagrin of everyone (me) who started Decker last week. But this is something fantasy owners have seen coming for a while now. Thomas is a stellar deep threat with a big body, essentially the perfect target for Tim Tebow. Be wary though: there’s as good a chance of him getting another two touchdowns as there is of him getting two catches for 16 yards.
Guys he’s better than this week: Johnny Knox, Nate Burleson
Brent Celek vs. Miami
Yahoo: 37 percent owned, ESPN: 23 percent owned
MIKE VICK IS BACK! DREAM TEAM! DREAM TEAM! Sorry about that. The Eagles are so exciting it’s hard to control the emotions sometimes. After taking a three-week hiatus from what is surely the Eagles’ run at perfect futility, Vick is back, much to the benefit of Celek. He was seeing a lot of targets from Vick, so hopefully that will continue for three quarters before Vick injures something else.
Guys he’s better than this week: Owen Daniels, Kellen Winslow
Seattle vs. St. Louis
Yahoo: 35 percent owned, ESPN: 39 percent owned
When the Rams had Sam Bradford at quarterback, they were a great offense to stream defenses against. They were even better when the put A.J. Feely under center. But with Tom Brandstater getting his first career start, they might just change the streaming world forever. Seattle’s defense has been good this year, but against St. Louis, it’s a clear top-5 option this week. Only one question remains: who allowed this debacle to take place on Monday night?
Defenses they’re better than this week: Chicago, Philadelphia
Denver vs. Chicago
Yahoo: 51 percent owned, ESPN: 16 percent owned
Two words: Caleb. Hanie. That’s it. Stop whatever you’re doing and make this move. The Bears have been, to put it nicely, terrible with Hanie under center, and it doesn’t figure do get any better with VonDoom breathing down his neck all afternoon. To make matter worse for Chicago, Matt Forte’s injury makes Marion Barber the team’s primary ball carrier. Hanie and Barber sounds like a lawfirm you would never, ever want representing you. The Denver defense should have no trouble capitalizing.
Defenses they’re better than this week: Green Bay, New York Giants
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