Some teams, like the Cowboys, Lions, Panthers and Jaguars, are outside the playoff race, but players from those teams can help your cause. Whether they're auditioning for next season, looking to reach a performance bonus or playing for pride, they can be just as valuable as players on good teams come the fantasy postseason. They headline this week's look at the best pickups available.
• Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jaguars Expected to be one of the league's leading receivers entering the season, Sims-Walker was quiet through the first seven weeks, reaching the five-catch, 50-yard plateau in only one game. But on Sunday, QB David Garrard returned after missing a week with a concussion, and Sims-Walker caught eight passes for 153 yards against Dallas, scoring a touchdown for the third time in four games. He's available in one third of all leagues, and with Jacksonville on a bye this week, that number will likely increase. Bring him into the fold if you can.
• Jon Kitna, QB, Cowboys There is no joy in Dallas these days, but at least those who own Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten can breathe easier after seeing Kitna last week. The Cowboys like to throw—often because they're trying to come from behind—and Kitna moved the offense well, gaining 379 yards through the air on 34 of 49 passing. He threw four interceptions, but three of those bounced off his receivers' hands. The former 4,000-yard passer is the starter for the foreseeable future, and the deeper the Cowboys sink into the abyss, the more likely he is to put up big numbers. He's a terrific injury replacement.
• Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions Owned in fewer than 20% of leagues, Pettigrew is one of the best-kept secrets in fantasy. Entering last week, he was tied for fourth in catches and ninth in receiving yards among tight ends, and had more fantasy points than widely owned TEs Brent Celek, Visanthe Shiancoe and Owen Daniels. Pettigrew has only two TDs—he got his second on Sunday against the Redskins—but with Matthew Stafford looking good, he's a sure pickup.
• Dan Carpenter, K, Dolphins For the most part kickers are interchangeable, but every now and then one ends up in an ideal situation that demands attention. To wit: Carpenter, who has been on a roll, making 13 of 13 field goals over the last three games. Like his counterpart in Tennessee, fantasy stud Rob Bironas, Carpenter has a strong leg (three of four from 50 yards or more) and plays for a team that likes to grind it out on the ground, which often leads to low-scoring games decided by field goals.
• Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers With DeAngelo Williams sidelined, Stewart had a golden opportunity in St. Louis, but he gained only 30 yards on 14 carries. Don't give up, though. The Rams are tough on runners, allowing only two rushing TDs and just one back to pile up more than 72 yards all season. Williams is still ailing with a bad foot, so Stewart should get another start against a softer Saints D.
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If you're looking for a little boost in your lineup this time of year, it's always a good strategy to check out teams coming off a bye. Those guys have had a week off to heal the bumps and bruises and to fix anything that hasn't been working during the early part of the schedule. They can help whether you're looking for short-term sub or a permanent addition.
Two guys I like in that category this week are Ravens tight end Todd Heap and Bears wide receiver Devin Hester. Heap has three TDs in his last two games and was playing with a sore neck. After some down time he should be an even more effective weapon for Joe Flacco. Hester is a threat as both a runner and a receiver, and if Chicago wants to make a playoff push, it will need to get him more involved on offense.
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LATE ARRIVAL After a slow start, Sims-Walker erupted for eight catches and a touchdown against Dallas last week.
JEFFREY GELLER/ICON SMI (JONES-DREW)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (HEAP)