There’s cheer and holiday wonder in the air as we keep steaming towards two untimely ends: first, the annual December demise of your bank account, and then the dashing of your fantasy delusions during the final four.

The latter is already upon us, with fantasy money making time officially here. Most leagues that are fair and just give a financial reward of some kind to the top three finishers, meaning those still alive have now earned themselves a shot at sweet cash

But alas, Aaron Rodgers likely still won’t be blessing us with his presence this week. Ditto for Adrian Peterson, and Rob Gronkowski has departed for 2013. What the hell, bro? To the waiver wire mobile.


1. Josh McCown: I won’t slobber on McCown much more here, because the depth of his chucking insanity highlighted by 13 touchdowns and only one interception was thoroughly drooled over this morning. That long tossing is what easily makes McCown the top waiver claim at his position this week, and every week if he remains relatively unowned. However, for you Aaron Rodgers owneers who have somehow advanced and are still clawing for quarterbacks, please note how disappointed you may be this week if you’re expecting a repeat of Week 14 from McCown. He travels to face a much, much tougher Browns pass defense anchored by Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, who are second and third in passes defensed. As a unit, the Browns are allowing only 6.1 yards per pass attempt.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 19%, Yahoo – 42%

2. Jason Campbell: It’s easy to be a hater with Campbell, mostly because that’s your natural reaction to a journeyman quarterback who was mangled as a rookie in Washington. But we can’t just shrug off his 391 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots, especially when that secondary was allowing a mid-pack 236.5 passing yards per game. This will shock you, but it seems that having Josh Gordon around is doing wonders for Cleveland Quarterback X, with his long and pleasant jogs after the catch that have incredibly led to 649 receiving yards over just the past three weeks, including two +80 yard catches.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 2%, Yahoo – 6%

3. E.J. Manuel: Yeah, Manuel has been rather horrible, with his yards per attempt sinking below 6.0 in four of his nine starts, and he also has more turnovers (10) than touchdowns (9). But the Jaguars suck too, making Manuel another fine play for you desperate Rodgers owners against a defense that’s tied for the third most passing touchdowns allowed (25).

Percentage owned: ESPN 11%, 9%

4. Joe Flacco: I’ve done this a few times as I still crinkle my forehead while wondering how Flacco is unowned in nearly half of all leagues. But here we are again, with the Ravens quarterback now among the juicy matchups for Week 15, and set to toss against the 25th ranked Lions secondary. This is yet again ideal for both you still scrambling Rodgers owners, and you crazy quarterback streamers who have midnight clicked your way to the semi-finals.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 53%, Yahoo – 55%

5. Matt Cassel: Christian Ponder has been cleared to practice, but whether or not he starts remains to be seen. And if he does, then just replace his name with Cassel here, because a matchup against the Eagles is a fun one to pick apart, even with a substandard quarterback who has little pocket presence and is playing without Adrian Peterson. Joining Manuel and to a lesser extent Campbell, Cassel is among the union leaders of Week 15 awful quarterbacks with wildly appealing matchups, as he’s set to do his throwing against a defense that’s one of only three allowing over 280 passing yards per game.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 1%

Running Backs

1. Toby Gerhart: During a time of the year when holiday cheer may be high but there’s mostly nothingness on the waiver wire, the most attractive grab this week is either Da’Rick Rogers (more below…patience), or Gerhart. You’ll land here with Gerhart if it’s a running back that you desire, and you’ll likely have to pay several limbs to obtain his services. Gerhart has plenty of bulk and girth, but he lacks speed, though you’d never know it on his 41-yard touchdown run that was part of the Vikings-Ravens insanity. That was his fourth +20 yard run of the season on just 36 carries, and here’s to hoping he has some more of that in him, as now Gerhart is a must add for Adrian Peterson owners who are likely to be without their first overall pick during the semi-finals. Sadly, even adding Gerhart won’t cure all your injury jitters, as he’s nursing a hamstring strain, though it doesn’t sound serious enough to threaten his Week 15 status.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 11%

2. Chris Ogbonnaya: You’re about to notice a theme here in the land of the running backs, one that centers around taking advantage of the wounded. In Cleveland, Willis McGahee left the latest Browns heart smashing in Week 14 with a concussion, and as is the case with all head ringings, he’s now racing to play Sunday. This sets up the very real possibility of Ogbonnaya being an absolute mega gem when it matters most. Go ahead and look at the schedule now, and note that the Browns host Chicago and their defense that’s allowed a +100 yard rusher in a record six straight games, most recently letting DeMarco Murray chug for 148 yards at a pace of 8.1 per carry.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 14%, Yahoo – 22%

3. Daniel Thomas: This is admittedly more of a reaching add, because Lamar Miller’s concussion outlook is much better than McGahee’s, and there’s apparently optimism about his Week 15 status. Still, go ahead and stash Thomas as some insurance, because at worst being able to flex a guy who just posted 105 yards at a pace of 6.6 per carry, and he’s now poised to set a torch to a Patriots run defense that’s been in shambles for quite some time without Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, giving up 135.8 rushing yards per game.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 5%, Yahoo – 12%

4. Jordan Todman: Will Maurice Jones-Drew play this week? Maybe, but probably not, because those in the know are calling him “very questionable”. That means Todman now has value, if only because every starting running back has some shred of value. A warp speed getting-to-know-you session with Todman: he showed some flash during the only game of the preseason that sort of matters in Week 3 with 105 yards on eight carries, most of which came on a 63-yard kaboom, and in total during the August scrimmaging he had 223 rushing yards at a 7.7 per carry pace.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 2%

5. Montee Ball: He’s far more widely owned, which is why Ball finds himself way down here. But he’s still hovering at nearly 40 percent availability in Yahoo leagues, and he’s still getting significant touches now late in his rookie season with Knowshon Moreno limited. Over the last two weeks Ball has turned 28 carries into 194 yards, a pace of 6.9 per carry. He also has the Chargers’ run defense teed up, and they’re allowing 4.8 YPC, the league’s second worst rate.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 79%, Yahoo – 61%

Wide Receivers

1. Da’Rick Rogers: There’s so much speed and leaping ability and just general awesomeness here, and yet the Colts kept Rogers bottled up until Week 14 for reasons only they really know. He can catch too, which by default makes him much better than Darrius Heyward-Bey, who played only 23 snaps during the Colts’ loss to Cincinnati while Rogers saw much more of the field (41 snaps). Rogers turned that into 107 yards and two touchdowns in his very first NFL game. So yeah, he’s good.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 2%

2. Rod Streater: He had career single-game highs in receptions (seven), yards (130), and he tied a career high in targets against the still woeful Jets, which is encouraging and the sort of thing that makes you want to plug Streater into every flex spot ever. So does his average of 91 yards per game over the past four weeks. But his next opponent, the Chiefs of Kansas City, sure doesn’t.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 7%, Yahoo – 20%

3. Cordarrelle Patterson: Patterson was once no more than a reaching flex while being used minimally in the passing game, and as anything other than a scary returner. But he’s more than worthy of your consideration because that’s beginning to change quickly. Like fellow rookie wideout Tavon Austin, Patterson’s touches matter much less than most receivers because he’s such a unique — and uniquely used — speed threat. He has a touchdown in each of his last two games, and although he holds the job title of “wide receiver” one of those scores came on a handoff, and the other came on what was essentially also a handoff (a wide receiver screen). In total over those two games Patterson has 174 yards from scrimmage, despite a moderate nine total touches. And yes, if you really are worried about targets and touches, please note that prior to Week 11 he was averaging only 3.1 looks per game, a number that’s since spiked to 7.8.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 5%, Yahoo – 20%

4. Marlon Brown: Like Streater, Brown set career highs in receiving yards (93) and receptions (seven) this week while being a primary focus with 11 targets during the Ravens’ win over Minnesota that broke math. Is that repeatable? *shrugs* I’ll side with likely not, because his Week 14 output represents nearly a quarter of his total yardage on the season in one game, and Brown benefited from Torrey Smith being shut down. But there are far, far worse options than flexing receiver who’s set to do his catching and running against the Lions, and their secondary that’s given up 14 passes for 40 yards or more, one of which came in a whiteout when throwing was barely possibly.

Percentage owned: ESPN 7%, Yahoo – 10%

5. Josh Boyce: This is the most dice roll-y claim out there this week. With Rob Gronkowski gone from our lives, everyone on the Patriots’ offensive depth chart slides up a rung on the touch totem pole, which sounds dirty. But then if we combine that with the possibly continued absence of Aaron Dobson and/or Kenbrell Thompkins (Dobson is more likely to be out again than Thompkins), Boyce could keep getting underneath looks. It’s that concoction of hurt which led to Boyce’s three receptions for 49 yards Sunday, which is pretty alright for the third option at his position, and overall the fourth if we include Shane Vereen. I realize there’s a special place in cold hell for those starting Josh Boyce in any capacity during semi-final week. But if you’re in a deep league (like, say, my 20-teamer), Boyce is a suitable half court shot..

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 0%

Tight Ends

1. Dennis Pitta: So, about easing Pitta back…ha. He was targeted 11 times in his season debut after missing the first 12 games following hip surgery, which tied Marlon Brown for the team high. So the Pitta we all knew from last year (a highly inconsistent fellow who received a good chunk of red-zone targets) is back immediately. In your Gronk replacement shopping then, Pitta is on par with Heath Miller below as a safer, more reliable option, while Andrew Quarless and Jacob Tamme could have higher one-week upside due to favorable matchups.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 14%

2. Heath Miller: Miller has been targeted 29 times over the last four weeks while averaging 62.5 yards per game. That’s plenty of yardage, and consistent yardage, though the scoring is still lacking and barely existing. Miller hasn’t scored since Week 7.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 16%, Yahoo – 51%

3. Jacob Tamme: Ultimately, Wes Welker’s likely absence this week will mean more catching fun for Julius Thomas and Eric Decker, while Demaryius Thomas gets his usual volume of deep balls. But it’s also likely that in a favorable matchup against a Chargers secondary that’s stopping little, Tamme will continue to see his playing time increase with Welker out. In Sunday’s win over Tennessee he was on the field for a season-high 51 percent of the Broncos’ offensive snaps, turning that into four catches for 47 yards.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 1%, Yahoo – 6%

4. Andrew Quarless: Any time you can start an oft-targeted pass catcher against the Dallas defense — the one that’s quite incredibly giving up just shy of 300 passing yards per game, and was bludgeoned for 348 yards and four touchdowns last night), you do that. Don’t let Matt Flynn scare you off either, because his pasta arm results in more short-to-intermediate throws. That blissful combination of short thrower and slow runner led to seven catches for Quarless during the Packers’ win over Atlanta, which ended in a season high 66 yards with a touchdown,

Percentage owned: ESPN – 8%, Yahoo – 1%

5. Rob Housler: Speaking of smashed panic buttons, lets return to ol’ reliable here. Housler has missed some time with injury, but in his 10 games he’s had 50 or more yards in five of them. So that’s something, though overall his matchup this week against the Titans is less than appealing, as their defense has given up a league low 12 passing touchdowns. But it’s also a defense that allowed Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas to combine for 82 yards this past Sunday.

Percentage owned: ESPN – 2%, Yahoo – 13%