BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- Earnings season officially kicks off today, giving investors a benchmark that will set the market tone for the new year. It all begins with Alcoa (AA), the Pittsburgh-based Aluminum manufacturing giant, which releases its fourth-quarter numbers after the close.Earnings season is especially significant this year because of the broad-based rally we've seen in the major indexes in the last quarter. With another glimpse of companies' actual performance, investors will get another shot at tempering their gains with actual fundamentals. And this week, we'll do our best to pick out the best performance by turning to our Rocket Stocks list. For the uninitiated, Rocket Stocks are our weekly list of companies with short-term gain catalysts and longer-term growth potential. In the last 86 weeks, our Rocket Stocks have beaten the S&P 500 by 78.15%. Related: 4 S&P 500 Stocks Poised to Rebound This week, we'll continue our trend of looking at stocks with rising analyst expectations. On Wall Street, expectations can mean everything -- and stocks with rising expectations often benefit from increased buying pressures from institutions and retail investors alike. To find them, I run a quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises. Here's a look at this week's potential plays.