Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The middle class is shifting.
While that sounds like something you might have heard during the presidential debates last month, I'm not referring to the economic situation in the United States. I'm talking about the fantasy quarterback landscape.
The middle tier -- QBs who have consistently produced but have never been one of the first players off the board in fantasy drafts -- has remained relatively static the last five years, but several newcomers have eclipsed the old guard in 2012.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - I don't know if Freeman made some adjustments during his Week 5 bye or if his stats have been helped by playing Kansas City, New Orleans, Minnesota and Oakland, but his numbers have been outstanding as of late. In his last four games, he's passed for an average of 314.3 yards per game with a 11/1 TD/INT ratio. Thanks to his two big-play receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Freeman is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt this season, second-best in the NFL to Peyton Manning.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - Aside from two road stinkers, Luck has scored 15-plus fantasy points six times this season and 18-plus five times. He announced his presence with 433 yards and two touchdowns against Miami in Week 9.
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders - Palmer might be erratic at times, but he's been a consistent fantasy producer, totaling 14 or more points in seven of eight games this season with a high of 28 in Week 9 (414 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs).
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - Dalton is a little hit-or-miss, but he does have three 20-point performances and nearly had a fourth with 19 fantasy points in Week 6.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers - He's been in this group for years and has remained a reliable fantasy option this season. The 12 points he produced Sunday were actually his lowest of the season; he's posted 15 or more five times.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans - Schaub has been consistent, but the run-heavy Texans cap his value. He's scored 20-plus points only one time this year, but has exceeded 16 points four times. He has an extremely easy schedule after Sunday's matchup with Chicago, facing Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee, New England, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Indianapolis to close the year.
Eli Manning, New York Giants - Manning may be elite in real life, but he's a fantasy disappointment. Aside from scoring just eight combined points the last two weeks and 32 the last four, Manning has only two 20-point games this season.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys - After scoring 23 fantasy points Week 1, Romo hasn't eclipsed that 20-point mark since. He's thrown for 758 yards the last two games, but just two touchdowns to four picks in that span. Romo has only thrown multiple touchdowns twice this season.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles - Vick hasn't been a terrible fantasy producer this season despite the abhorrent stench coming from the Eagles these days. He's scored 15-plus points in six of eight games and 20-plus twice. However, his high is just 21 and he's walking a tightrope both literally and metaphorically with four injured offensive lineman and a fan base clamoring for a QB change.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens - It was fun while it lasted, Joe. Flacco scored 19-plus points in four of the first five games, but he's been a disaster since, averaging 9.0 points per game. He hasn't thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 3 or eclipsed 300 yards since Week 4.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears - Cutler's approval rating should remain high in fantasy circles for what he does for Brandon Marshall, but the Bears QB isn't a fantasy option you can count on. He hasn't exceeded 300 yards in a game since Week 1 and his 20 fantasy points against the Titans in Week 9 were his most this season. Meanwhile, he's had weeks of 6, 5 and 2.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers - Rivers is essentially the AFC's version of Cutler; he's strictly a matchup play, albeit a risky one. Like Cutler, Rivers has produced low games of 6, 5 and 2 while eclipsing 20 points just once.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills - Fitzpatrick has been a train wreck the last four weeks. Sure, he shredded Tennessee for 19 points, but he's also had games of 8, 6 and 3 in that span after averaging 18.25 fantasy points the first four games.