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Now's time to grab players for playoffs

It's a rare fantasy league that awards anything of merit to its regular-season champion. Like the NFL, nobody cares that you went 12-2 a few years ago if you followed that by losing in the first round of the playoffs.

So for fantasy owners who feel comfortable they've locked up a playoff spot with five weeks to play, now is a good time to pursue a trade or two to get the players who can give you the best numbers in Weeks 15-17, when most leagues hold their playoffs.

Those weeks matter the most, so you can adjust a player's value based on the teams he's playing down the stretch. Green Bay's Ahman Green is a great back to begin with, but even better when you consider that, in the next-to-last game of the season, the Packers face an aging Raiders defense that ranks 31st in rushing defense.

With a 4-4 record, the Packers are all the more likely to be in a position to need a huge game from Green to help their position in the playoffs.

Here are five more fantasy stars who benefit from an easy final three weeks:

Fred Taylor, Jaguars: Has just two rushing touchdowns, but he's catching the ball more than ever and is on pace for 1,748 yards of total offense. He ends his season against the Patriots, Saints and Falcons, all in the bottom half of the league in rushing touchdowns allowed. Getting the Falcons in the final week is a big plus, though neither team will have anything to play for except maneuvering for top-five draft picks.

Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison, Colts: Obviously it's tough to pry either away from a fellow owner in a trade, but their final three weeks could make it worthwhile. The Colts close with Atlanta, Denver and Houston, and the Falcons and Texans are among the NFL's five worst defenses in passing touchdowns and yardage allowed. Indy should be battling for a first-round bye and homefield advantage in the AFC, so it will be counting on big games from its top two stars.

Michael Bennett, Vikings: A bit of a gamble because he's just now returning from injury, but he rushed for 1,296 yards last season and will be Minnesota's go-to back if healthy. The Vikings close the season with Chicago, Kansas City and Arizona, and the Bears have the fourth-worst rushing defense while the other two are middle of the pack. If the patient guy who has Bennett in your league isn't in the playoff mix, make a move for him now.

Brett Favre, Packers: The Packers have a run of five consecutive games against sub-.500 opponents in Weeks 12-16, a nice fantasy edge by itself. If they can split their next two against the Eagles and Bucs, they'll be in the thick of the playoff picture in December. Favre, tied for the NFL lead with 16 touchdown passes, finishes with San Diego, Oakland and Denver. The Chargers have allowed an NFL-high 15 passing touchdowns, Denver's close behind with 12, and Favre gets the withering Raiders on Monday night, three days before Christmas, a perfect storm-type of intersection that could be fantasy football kismet for his owners.

Ravens defense: The opposite principle works here: It's good to have a defense playing three awful offenses at the end of the season. Baltimore closes with the Raiders, Browns and Steelers _ Cleveland has scored 14 or fewer points in six of eight games; Oakland has 13 or fewer in three straight, and Pittsburgh has topped 21 points just twice. I'm guessing Jamal Lewis is challenging 2,000 yards during these games, so he's good for 30-plus carries, something else to keep opposing offenses off the field.

TIP SHEET: Jets receiver Santana Moss has touchdowns in four games in a row, including three last week, and sure looks like Chad Pennington's go-to guy. One caveat with Moss: The Jets' last two games are against the Patriots and Dolphins, two of the NFL's three stingiest pass defenses, having combined to allow nine touchdown catches in 17 games. Carolina's Steve Smith has three scores and three 100-yard games in the past four weeks, with twice as many yards or catches as any other Panthers receiver. He should be a fantasy starter every week. Ravens kicker Matt Stover has 12 field goals and six extra points in the past month, benefiting from a Baltimore offense that's last in the AFC in the red zone.

_ If you have a fantasy question or lineup dilemma, send an e-mail to staff writer Greg Auman at aumansptimes.com.

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