Football fans and fantasy players rejoice; there are no more bye weeks left in the NFL this season. That means more games throughout the week and no more worrying about replacing a star player who is sitting out this week. The end of bye weeks also means we are entering the final stretch of the NFL season.

With the end of Week 11, there are six more weeks of football left on the season with obvious postseason implications on the line. It is safe to assume some teams currently in position for the playoffs, such as Atlanta and Houston, will be there in six weeks. Others, like the Vikings and Colts, are much less certain. One team rising quickly up the standings is the New Orleans Saints, winners of three straight games to get to a 5-5 record after starting the season with four consecutive losses. The upcoming weeks will truly tell whether this year’s Saints are more closely related to the team that started as one of the worst in the NFL or the dangerous offensive juggernaut we’ve all come to expect from New Orleans throughout the last few years.

Particularly interesting for the Saints are the next three upcoming games, all against NFC divisional leaders. Next week, the Saints square off against the NFC West leading 49ers in a game that will test the offensive firepower of Drew Brees and his numerous weapons. A week later, the Saints head over to division rival Atlanta, a team New Orleans just defeated in Week 10 to hand the Falcons its only loss of the season. Week 14’s matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants caps off a brutal three-game schedule, a stretch that will likely determine whether the Saints make it to the postseason.

While I do not expect New Orleans to clinch a playoff spot following a slow start, I do predict they will certainly be competitive and show they will stick around as a premier team in the NFL once Head Coach Sean Payton returns from suspension next season.


Pickups of the Week

Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Jacksonville

The rookie receiver had a breakthrough game on Sunday with seven catches for 236 yards and a touchdown, all career highs. Blackmon was expected to be a bright spot in the Jaguars’ passing game, but has underperformed on the year, and consequently is owned in less than half of ESPN standard leagues. While Sunday’s performance was the first time he has really shined, if Blackmon can continue to show why he was the first receiver taken in last April’s draft, he may be an impact performer for fantasy teams down the stretch. Expect Blackmon to be the most highly sought waiver wire addition this week. Facing a weak Tennessee defense next week, Blackmon may be in store for another big day if he and new starting quarterback Chad Henne can pick up where they left off last Sunday against Houston.


Marcel Reece, Running Back, Oakland

With Darren McFadden out the last two weeks, Reece has exploded as a versatile running back that can rack up yards through the passing game as well. This past week, fantasy owners saw that versatility in full force as he amassed 193 yards from scrimmage and was the top fantasy running back on the day. Even if McFadden returns, Reece has shown he can do damage without getting carries, as he caught eight balls for 95 yards and a touchdown in McFadden’s last game played during week nine. Reece should see plenty of touches, both rushing and receiving, and could emerge as a dangerous flex option for the remainder of the season.


A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 20th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.