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Top 15 Sleepers for 2012 Fantasy Football Playoffs

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Top 15 Sleepers for 2012 Fantasy Football Playoffs

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Fantasy Football Week 14 brings the playoffs to the majority of players this weekend. Well, for those that made the playoffs that is. For those that are playing this week, that most likely means you are not a top seed in your league, as usually the top two seeds receive bye weeks.

Because we can't play fantasy football into the actual NFL playoffs, owners must take into consideration the fact that some teams are already eliminated and may change course in terms of their starting lineups. And when this happens, the game plan and the players who take the field may differ from what it was at the start of the season.

A perfect example, the Philadelphia Eagles, who have went from Mike Vick to Nick Foles at quarterback, and LeSean McCoy to Bryce Brown at running back. You can make a case for McCoy and Vick because they were victims of concussions, but the Eagles have most likely thrown in the towel on their disastrous season. Neither Foles or Brown were drafted in your leagues, but they might just be a factor down the stretch.

Identifying a sleeper can mean the difference between a first-round exit, or a late push towards fantasy football glory. Owners should assess the situation with every player that they own, and ensure that they will be viable starts down the stretch.

A sleeper, in my eyes, is a player that not many fantasy players own/start, and do not see the potential for production. This is what I call value, and sometimes that value can push your team over the top. Now that we have completed the fantasy football regular season, let's take a look at the top 15 sleepers for the 2012 fantasy football playoffs. As always, best of luck the rest of the way, and may the fantasy gods be with you.

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15. WR Jarius Wright, Minnesota Vikings

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Jarius Wright could be considered a DEEP sleeper heading into the playoffs. It's official, the Vikings best offensive threat aside from Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, will not take the field again in 2012. He was placed on injured reserve after suffering a severe ankle sprain.

That means that Wright should see a major increase in targets from here on out, as he will take over the slot duties in Minnesota. The downside here is the fact that QB Christian Ponder has been absolutely dreadful, but if Ponder can increase his output by the tiniest percentage, Wright will be the one to benefit.

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14. RB Bilal Powell, New York Jets

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Powell has quietly taken over roughly half the workload in the Jets backfield. He has scored three touchdowns in the past three weeks, and has rushing attempt totals of 11, 12, and 12 in that span. Shonn Greene remains the starter, but it's Powell who has been more valuable as of late.

If you need running back help heading into the playoff weeks, Powell is a very viable option. Bilal is available in virtually all leagues as he's owned by only 2.5% of fantasy players. With the Jets struggling in the passing game, it seems New York only scores by ground or via their defense.

The next three weeks are very favorable for Powell and his small amount of owners. He faces the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and the San Diego Chargers. Jaguars have allowed the 3rd-most fantasy points to running backs, and Titans aren't much better, currently allowing the 4th-most. The Chargers have been above average this season at defending the run, but these next two weeks could end up being very fruitful for Powell and his owners.

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13. QB Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

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The 29-year old rookie isn't going to knock you off your feet with his numbers, but he really isn't all that bad either. Weeden has thrown multiple touchdowns in five games this season, and threw for 300+ yards for the third time this season last week against the Oakland Raiders.

Weeden's fantasy playoff schedule looks like this: Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14, Washington Redskins in Week 15, and the Denver Broncos in Week 16. Chiefs have given up the 5th-most fantasy points to QBs and the Redskins have allowed the 2nd-most. Broncos are a little tougher of a match up, as they have given up the 12th-fewest points to QBs, but you have to like Weeden's value for the next two weeks against some of the softest secondaries in the NFL.

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12. QB Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Look, the Jaguars backfield is a complete mess. They are down to Montell Owens as their starter and to be honest I don't even know who Montell Owens is. It's no secret, the Jaguars are going to THROW THE BALL for the rest of the season.

Henne has looked like Tom Brady compared to Blaine Gabbert's performances earlier this season. Henne may be good for at least two turnovers a game, but he has actually thrown eight touchdowns the last four weeks. Henne has produced 102 fantasy points the last four weeks, and his next three opponents are nothing to fear.

Other than the Jets, who have allowed the 9th-fewest points to QBs this season, his Week 15 and Week 16 match-ups are very beatable opponents. After this weeks game against the Jets, Henne will face the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. Both secondaries rank in the bottom half at defending the QB position, and like I mentioned, Henne will do nothing but throw, throw, and throw with the current RB situation. If you need him, he's there.

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11. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

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Pettigrew is owned in roughly 80% of leagues, but he's still only being started by 47% of his owners. The Detroit Lions are super thin at wide receiver at the moment, as Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, and Nate Burleson are all on the shelf for the rest of the 2012 season.

Aside from Calvin Johnson, who will QB Matthew Stafford throw the ball to? The only other option would be Mike Thomas, and I contemplated putting him on this list, but he just can't be trusted.

The Lions are a pass-first offense so Pettigrew should continue to see an increase in targets. Brandon is averaging 10 targets per game the last four weeks, and he also has the 3rd-most targets for a tight end. As long as Stafford is looking his way, Pettigrew is someone you should seriously consider putting in your lineups.

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10. WR Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars

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If the QB for the Jaguars makes this list, you have to put Justin Blackmon in the same category. As noted earlier, Jacksonville's backfield is depleted, so the Jaguars have turned into a pass-happy team. With Cecil Shorts going through the NFL's concussion protocol and missing from practice all week, Blackmon will be the #1 heading into Week 14.

Blackmon has been inconsistent, but with the possibility of Jacksonville playing from behind and the fact that they are severely short-handed, he should have a real good chance of putting up some solid numbers in these upcoming weeks. Owned by roughly 70% of leagues, but only being started by 15%, he's there if you need him.

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9. TE Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

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Start the season strong, finish the season strong. That might be the theme for Bennett, as he jumped out the gate with three consecutive scores in three consecutive weeks to start the season. Then he hit a brick wall, and was held out of the end zone for eight straight games.

Bennett finally got out of his slump, by catching 5 balls for 82 yards and a touchdown in Week 13 against the Washington Redskins. Hopefully this is a sign of Martellus getting back to his early season form, because he has some very beatable match-ups these next two weeks.

In Week 14, Bennett will face the New Orleans Saints, who have allowed the 2nd-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends the past five weeks. Week 15, he will see the Atlanta Falcons, who have surrendered the 13th-most points to tight ends this season. The Giants will be throwing often in these playoff weeks, so keep an eye on Bennett as he might really start to turn it on down the stretch if his quarterback can get him the ball.

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8. TE Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Might be a tad overload on the Jaguars as this is the third player on that team to make the list, but hey, this team is going to throw the damn ball and someone is going to have to catch it. Lewis has become a major factor in this offense ever since Chad Henne took over, and that should continue in these upcoming weeks.

Lewis will see the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots in the next three weeks and all three teams rank in the bottom half of the league when it comes to defending the tight end position. With the backfield in shambles, and Cecil Shorts doubtful this week, Henne may look Lewis' way in the short game quite often. Marcedes is only owned in 19% of leagues despite catching eleven balls and two touchdowns these past three weeks. If you need tight end help, Lewis might just be the answer to your troubles.

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7. WR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

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What's not to like about the rookie Hilton in these next few weeks? Even with Donnie Avery back, Hilton still figures to be a major factor in not only the Colts passing game, but also on special teams as a return specialist.

Hilton is only owned by 51% of leagues and only being started by 29% of his owners. He has caught 15 balls for 233 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks. QB Andrew Luck looked Hilton's way 11 times last week so the opportunities are certainly there for Hilton to breakout at anytime.

It doesn't get any easier than this in terms of opponents for the next three weeks. Hilton will face the Titans who have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to opposing receivers. Week 15, Hilton will see the Houston Texans, who have an overall good defense, but that secondary is the weak link. Houston defense has allowed 122 fantasy points to wide receivers in the past three games and 11th-most this season. Texans secondary is also riddled with injuries at the moments so they are certainly vulnerable. Week 16, Hilton will see the lowly Chiefs, who have surrendered five receiving touchdowns in the past five weeks.

Again...what's not to like about Hilton to close out the season? Especially with the idea that he can break off a punt return at anytime to give you a quick touchdown. I understand if you can't bring yourself to start this guy, but I urge you to at least put him up for consideration.

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6. WR Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans

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The Titans have not had a very successful season, but Kendall Wright at least looks promising for the future. Wright leads the team in targets with 88, and with the addition of new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains might just be the answer to the Titans offensive woes.

Wright is also tied for a team-high four receiving touchdowns on the season, and he should add to that total starting in Week 14 against the Colts. Indianapolis have allowed the 4th-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Add the Titans weak offensive line to the equation, and you can say Wright should easily see another 10 targets this week.

Wright's following game against the Jets might be a little tougher of a match up, but it gets easy again in Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers, who have allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to receivers. Wright is the least owned receiver in Tennessee despite the four touchdown receptions which sort of boggles my mind. If you need WR help for your playoff run, I'd look Wright's way.

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5. RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos

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Moreno got the nod as the Broncos starting back after Willis McGahee went down with a season-ending injury in Week 11. In the past two games, Moreno has carried the ball 40 times for 154 rushing yards. He has failed to record a touchdown since being named the starter, but also has 8 receptions for 40 receiving yards for those in PPR formats.

Starting with Week 14, Moreno will have to face the Oakland Raiders, followed by the Baltimore Ravens, and the Cleveland Browns. All three teams have subpar rushing defenses with the Browns being the toughest match-up. If you need running back help, it's not often you will find a legit 20-carry back heading into the playoff rounds on the waiver wire. Moreno is available in 40% of leagues and only being started by 35% of his owners. Go get him while you can.

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4. WR Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers

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Starting with Week 14, Alexander does not have the best match-up by any means, with a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matter of fact, the Steelers would be the worst team to face right now as they are ranked number one in terms of defending the pass.

Still, it's pretty clear that Alexander is the best fantasy receiver on this Chargers team as he's averaging 11.3 fantasy points per game. The past three weeks, Danario has caught 18 balls for 272 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. I'm still not a believer in Ryan Matthews as a viable fantasy option, so I will consider Alexander the most valuable player in terms of fantasy football on this team. Owned by only 27% of leagues, and only 6% of owners have the nerve to start him? How is a guy, who is catching 6-7 balls a game, and getting close to a 100 yards receiving on a weekly basis owned by only 27% of players? Are you all really that set at the WR position? I doubt it.

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3. RB Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts

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Vick Ballard, like so many other rookies on the Colts, has stepped right into the NFL with the poise of a seasoned veteran. Sure, Ballard only has two touchdowns on the season, but he has been a very steady back for the Colts this season.

With Donald Brown out this week, Ballard should be in for a workload of at least 20 carries. That's good news for anyone that owns Ballard because this weeks match-up against the Titans is a very favorable one. Titans currently allowing the 2nd-most fantasy points to running backs this season. Next weeks match-up against the Texans will not be as easy, but Week 16 goes again in Ballard's favor with a game against the Chiefs. Don't expect the world out of Ballard, but this week should be an easy 15 fantasy points and so should week 16 against Kansas City. If you need flex help, look the rookies way.

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2. WR Chris Givens, St. Louis Rams

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Really like the potential of Chris Givens in the slot with Danny Amendola out with a heel injury. Amendola can't seem to stay healthy this season, and it's Givens who is taking advantage of the opportunity.

QB Sam Bradford looked Givens' way an astonishing 14 times last week against the San Francisco 49ers. Not only will Givens be used as the slot receiver but he also has the potential to go deep at any time.

Givens next three opponents are the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All 3 match-ups are in favor of Givens, as the Bills have allowed the 14th-most fantasy points to receivers, the Vikings being the toughest opponent for Givens have surrendered the 12th-fewest points. Week 16 could end up being a huge game for Givens owners, as the Buccaneers are the NFL's worst team at defending the wide receiver position. As long as Amendola is out or nursing an injury, Givens will be the number one option in the Rams passing game, and while that's not saying much, I really like his value moving forward. Consider him for at least a roster spot on your team, he could mean the difference down the stretch.

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1. WR Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns

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Josh Gordon just might be getting hot again at the right time. Last week Gordon caught 6 balls for 116 yards and one touchdown. It's pretty obvious that the rookie from Baylor is the best play maker outside of Trent Richardson on the Browns.

With games against the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Washington Redskins, Gordon could possibly be the biggest sleeper of them all heading into the 2012 fantasy football playoffs. Kansas City is vulnerable to the big play, and have been smoked by receivers these past three weeks. Opposing receivers have caught 32 balls for 511 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. The Redskins aren't any better, actually no the Redskins are worse, allowing receivers to catch 39 balls for 540 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Gordon will face the Broncos in Week 16, which is a bit tougher of a match-up as Denver has been very tough as of late, but again, Gordon is the only Cleveland Brown outside of Trent Richardson, who has the possibility to win his owners a playoff round. Gordon went three straight weeks (5-7) with a touchdown and then was shutout until Week 13. My gut tells me that the streak is about to start again, and he's only owned in 34% of leagues. If Gordon has a big week against the Chiefs, which he will, many will go bananas for him on the wire in hopes he duplicates his efforts in Week 15. Start him now if you need receiver help, and pick him up now if you don't like your other receivers match-ups heading into next week.

Michael J. Igyarto is a featured columnist and fantasy football expert at Rant Sports

Follow Michael on twitter: @windycityiggy