It’s a moment for hometown flights and stockpiling glossy year-end magazines across America’s Hudson News kiosks. Fantasy football shares this affinity for looking back and lists. As survivors stumble into the postseason, we revisit the fall wire difference-makers who got us here—the gentlemen nobody drafted but offered comfortable numbness to owners with their set-it-and-forget-it consistency. In short, we’re talking about the top five dead-or-alive waiver wire releases of the year.

These plays were ethereal and angular—ripe with jarring, post-rock grooves. I knew about them before they were cool, and that’s a vital part of the fun. Beyond personal branding victories, these haunting free agents garnered blog buzz on the heels of acclaimed underground performances and the spotlight proved an opportune moment to breakout. We’ve been waiting on some of these artists, while others stormed the scene from nowhere.

1) Alfred MorrisBatman Butler Money
Hog Feast Records

Morris is a workmanlike performer—effortlessly cool and just as comfortable in Mike’s garage as he is opening up for Griffin Starship at Fed Ex. His record collection almost didn’t happen. Legend has it that he arrived at Hog camp as a session stand in, the fourth option on a youthful, vibrant creative roster. But we knew that the roulette game of chance had changed after the first listen.

2) Cecil ShortsDeath Grips Mount Union, Volume I
Self-Released

Shorts’ CD-R-only collection of stream-of-conscious musings about Floridian nights and fiscal cliffs  is a slow burner—a quietly consistent Side A gives way to an explosion of psychedelic takes about post-9/11 America and war and beating safeties deep. It’s a challenging listen with songs coded by numbers, but Mount Union’s back-end stretch of “16,” “14,” “16 (revisited),” and “13” is a universal soldier of love.

3) Mikel LeShoureCounty Line Lights
Rust Belt Vinyl

Few contemporary singer-songwriters this side of Cass McCombs, Cody Chesnutt, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff are more vivid than LeShoure in their lyrical tapestries of longing by-way-of self-assessment. Summer headlines threatened to shelve LeShoure’s follow-up to last year’s Disappointing Tendons—but as the sticky hook on “Three Touchdown Sunday” resonates, “By September baby, they said I’d be back and we were patient.”

4) Andy DaltonLos Tigres Del Norte
Ginger Bread Music Group

Dalton’s oft-delayed sophomore release begins as an overstuffed would be blockbuster with superfluous contributors standing around waiting for cues. Indie hero Armon Binns takes session backseats to smoke and mirrors newbies like Andrew Hawkins. By the middle of the thing, A.J. Green’s surefire production hones Dalton’s highly profane, chip-on-the-shoulder raps about broken homes and growing up red in an H-Town ‘burb full of brown-haired hustlers. Mohammed Sanu’s guest verse on “Roadhouse Shootouts” is already an all-timer.

5) Brandon MyersSafety Valves & Checkdowns (& Heartbreak)
Silver & Black Records

After three years and 32 catches on Silver & Black, Myers spent his summer in a rural Iowa log cabin meditating on his professional shortcomings while simultaneously penning his watermark masterpiece. The resulting work is a delicate open wound grounded in Novacek-era revivalism and mismatched seam routes. Sixty-nine catches later,  it still feels like the first time for the sixth-highest scoring tight end.

Playoff starts: Week 14

At this point, it’s about making the right starts and sits within your ranks. First, examine football games on an “Xs and Os” level and filter controllable items. Tony Romo is playing outdoors in his first career thunderstorm (60 percent chance of heavy showers in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon), so I’m looking elsewhere for quarterback production. Conversely, the Titans and Colts are playing indoors in a track meet stadium and everything about this feels like a shootout.

Knowing when to bench a stalwart is a tough call, one you need to take emotion out of. Hakeem Nicks, for instance, has only gotten to 100 receiving yards once this season, and that’s unacceptable for a starting fixture. With that in mind, here’s a roster of lineup fixtures I’m benching, and fringe dudes I’m trotting out in their place.

Less Than

  • Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bryce Brown, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
  • Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
  • Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
  • Reggie Bush, FLEX, Miami Dolphins

Playoff sparkplug Brown is facing the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL. Turner is a downhill slope with a defined ceiling and a thirsty understudy—Jaquizz Rodgers—that is doing more with his touches. Bowe is facing Joe Haden in Cleveland, and it’s a tough one-on-one for a guy that worked twice as well with Matt Cassel tossing him the ball. Fitzgerald’s lonely island assignments are a well-documented tragedy. Gates is facing a Steelers team with the best secondary in the NFL. Bush is ice cold and facing the San Francisco—the hardest-hitting team in the NFL.

Greater Than

  • Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans
  • Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets
  • Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts
  • Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
  • Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans
  • Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
  • T.Y. Hilton, FLEX, Indianapolis Colts

Locker loves deep bombs and this bodes well for Washington—his favorite target. The Colts game will be an indoors shootout. All the Jets can really do at this point is kill clock by way of three-yard handoffs; expect 25 carries for Greene against the 29th ranked rush defense. Ballard is my guy and he has a knack for fourth-quarter touchdowns. Gordon is the best receiver on an offense that just broke out for over 300 yards. Celek is the most-targeted Nick Foles-era Eagle. Hilton’s speed and recent string of big point totals should continue.

Photo of Andy Dalton via Navin75/Flickr