Now, let's get one thing straight. Fire-sale price or not, there is a huge risk in Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC) proposed deal for Countrywide (NYSE: CFC).

After injecting $2 billion into the mortgage lender last August, B of A had a vested interest in ensuring that Countrywide didn't land itself in bankruptcy if it ran short of cash. So I'm not fooling myself into thinking that the deal was primarily motivated by B of A seeing a great opportunity.

That said, seeing B of A snap up the leading U.S. mortgage lender for what could turn out to be pennies on the dollar had to get some of its competitors thinking -- especially JPMorgan Chase  (NYSE: JPM). Reports were flying on Friday that the bank held preliminary talks with Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM) about a possible merger.

Whether or not that's true, it underscores the point that major financial players that haven't been put on the ropes might soon start licking their lips at potential prey.

Possible targets outside of WaMu and Countrywide are almost endless. Thornburg Mortgage, First Horizon National, National City, Sovereign Bancorp, and Colonial Bancgroup are a few of the banks and mortgage lenders that have become much cheaper over the past year.

But wait! Before you dive in to start speculating on what might be bought out next, a word of warning. From the standpoint of an individual investor -- or really most institutional investors for that matter -- evaluating whether these banks are a steal or just a steamy pile of bad paper will be next to impossible.

In fact, I pity the guys on the diligence team for the Countrywide deal, since I can only imagine a lot of sleepless nights in the boardroom digging through paperwork. (Red Bull, anyone?)

Right now I think the best bet isn't on the beaten-down companies whose stocks could double or go to zero. It's time to start scouting the players that are best positioned to take advantage of the opportunities.

JPMorgan seems like an obvious answer, and you never want to count out Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) -- although Buffett never seems to buy what people expect he'll buy. Things aren't exactly hunky-dory at Citigroup (NYSE: C) and it might be focused on different areas now that it's headed by a former Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) investment banker -- but it could be a dark horse in the deal market as well.

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Berkshire Hathaway is a recommendation of both the Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Inside Value newsletters. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Bank of America, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Income Investor recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy has never once been caught with its pants down. Of course, it doesn't actually wear pants ...