Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Welcome to the playoffs with Week 14
If you're reading this, you either really love fantasy football columns or you've made it to the playoffs. Assuming it's the latter, congratulations. Now let's make sure you're right back here next week.
We've all seen someone below the radar come from out of nowhere to dominate the fantasy playoffs and decide league championships. Will someone pull the feat this year? I think that guy is out there at the quarterback position in 2013, provided he gets a chance to play all three weeks. He will play this week, though, and I have him as the No. 3 QB. Who is it? Find out below in the Week 14 Cheat Sheet.
We'll be updating here Sunday morning with important news as it breaks.
12:45 update -- We have some potentially huge news coming from the Lions. Reggie Bush apparently aggravated his calf injury during warmups and is no safe bet to play. You should take this down to the last minute, but if he cannot go Joique Bell would be a strong RB2 option. Reggie Bush is suited up and on the sideline, but that's all we know about his status. This is a total nightmare situation for his owners. If you have another reliable option, you have to go in that direction.
12:30 p.m. update -- Andre Ellington will return to the field this week after missing one game with a knee injury. The Rams allow the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, but Ellington is no better than a low-end flex play. He remains no more than a complementary player in the Arizona offense with Rashard Mendenhall handling the majority of the carries. The main takeaway here is that Mendenhall's Week 14 stock takes a hit. He could have been in line for a big day against the soft Rams defense with Ellington out, but will now cede the backup his usual seven to 10 carries. Consider Mendenhall a low RB2.
Noon update -- A little bit of a surprise in Washington, where Jordan Reed is inactive for the third-straight week. You'll have to look elsewhere if you were planning on rolling with him.
11:45 a.m. update -- Rashad Jennings will not play today because of a concussion suffered last week, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. With Darren McFadden also out, 2012 hero Marcel Reece could once again factor into the playoffs. Even with the increased volume this week, he's no better than an RB3. The Jets have allowed just 2.9 yards per carry, and give up the second-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs.
11:30 a.m. update -- There's no better time than the first week of the playoffs (for most) to have to deal with a winter storm dumping snow across a wide swath in the country. Remember, though, weather should not factor into your lineup decisions too much. It can be a tiebreaker between two even players, but don't reach down your depth chart too far just because a certain guy might have to deal with poor conditions.
11:10 a.m. update -- Reggie Bush, Vincent Jackson and Tony Gonzalez are all expected to play today after entering Sunday with the questionable tag. Bush and Jackson are guys you're playing with the utmost confidence. In addition to being no-brainer starts every week, they both have good matchups. I'd consider Gonzalez with a bit of trepidation, though the Packers allow the 12th-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. I've got him as a low-end TE1.
11 a.m. update -- Stevan Ridley has started to emerge from Bill Belichick's doghouse. He is expected to suit up after being a healthy scratch a week ago, but still does not offer the fantasy community much value. We can't be sure of his role, and Shane Vereen is clearly the top option in the backfield. While Ridley brings a different skill set to the table, we just can't trust that the volume will be there for him.
Want to advance in the playoffs? Start Josh McCown
On a per-game basis, few quarterbacks have been better than McCown this season. In his four starts, he has 1,195 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He has relieved Jay Cutler twice, throwing for 266 yards and two scores in those games. Hardly anyone expected the Bears offense to continue scoring at such a high rate without Cutler, but McCown has kept it ticking. This week will be no different.
The Bears host the Cowboys, who have allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, on Monday night. Four passers threw for at least 400 yards against them, including Eli Manning. Drew Brees came up just short of that mark at 392. Matthew Stafford nearly racked up 500 yards when the Lions played the Cowboys. They've allowed three quarterbacks to throw for four touchdowns. For the season, they've given up an astonishing 3,728 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. If "Quarterbacks Against Dallas" were a player in the league, he would be fourth in yards, tied for sixth in touchdown passes and have the sixth-most fantasy points, trailing Peyton Manning, Brees, Stafford, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers. McCown has thrown for more than 350 yards each of the last two weeks, and has one of the hottest receivers in the league in Alshon Jeffery. Start all your Bears this week.
Could the Broncos' receiver triumvirate disappoint?
First, let me preface this by saying you are absolutely starting Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker no matter what this week unless your corps of receivers somehow includes Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green (and even in that case, you'd probably start Thomas). However, understand that they face quite the challenge this week.
Thanks to the league's best corner duo, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, the Titans have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to receivers. Pro Football Focus ranks McCourty as the third-best cover corner this year. Verner isn't far behind, coming in at No. 9. The list of receivers they've shut down this year reads like a Pro Bowl roster -- both the actual one, and the one that ends up being reality once the guys who were voted in opt out. Antonio Brown scored just 7.5 fantasy points. Andre Johnson had 7.6. Doug Baldwin led all Seattle receivers at 4.8 points. Keenan Allen had one reception against the Titans for negative four yards. Cecil Shorts scored 4.2 points. T.Y. Hilton had 4.4 in their first meeting and 4.2 last week. If someone solves the McCourty-Verner pair, the smart money is on Manning being the guy, but there remains a real chance that at least one member of his star-studded trio of receivers comes up short in this crucial week for fantasy owners.
Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas can neutralize the Panthers' bite
On the surface, neither Sproles nor Thomas seems like a great play for fantasy owners in Sunday night's monster game between the Panthers and Saints. After all, Carolina has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. While they've done a great job against running backs on the ground, they've struggled mightily with pass-catching backs. The Panthers have allowed running backs to catch 78 passes, the third-most in the league, for 532 yards and a touchdown. Going back to the idea we touched on earlier, if "Running Backs Against the Panthers" were an actual player, he would lead all backs in receptions and receiving yards. In reality, the Panthers are not a bad matchup for Sproles and Thomas. Rather, it is Sproles and Thomas who are a terrible matchup for the Panthers.
Thomas is second among backs with 60 receptions. Sproles has missed one game this year, but he's still fourth in the league with 55 catches. They may not do much as traditional runners, but I like both to get somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight catches. That should be enough to push them to RB2 production.
Ray Rice wants to make up for busting this season
There's no doubt that Rice is on the short list of biggest busts this year. He's not at the top, but he's definitely in the team photo. If you're a Rice owner reading this, though, clearly his struggles didn't keep you from making the playoffs. He may have caused you nothing but headaches during the fantasy regular season, but he can finally live up to your expectations in the first round of the postseason.
The Vikings have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs, this season. Five backs have gone for at least 20 points against them, including Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy. Matt Forte had 16.1 points in the Chicago's first matchup with Minnesota and 15.1 in the second. They managed to keep Alfred Morris out of the end zone, but he ran for 139 yards on 26 carries. In other words, they haven't stopped anyone on the ground this year. Rice had his best game of the year two weeks ago against a similarly weak run defense in Chicago, running for 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He may not have been the RB1 you were hoping for when you drafted him this summer, but he'll be exactly that this week.
Injury wrap lightning round
• Adrian Peterson is questionable with a groin injury, but it would be a major shock if he didn't play. You know what to do.
• Carson Palmer is a game-time decision because of an elbow injury, but Bruce Arians said he expects his quarterback to play. If for some reason he can't go, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd would get serious downgrades.
• Le'Veon Bell was able to practice most of the week after suffering a concussion against the Ravens on Thanksgiving. He will play, and is a great fantasy option with the Dolphins allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
• Vincent Jackson (hamstring) is questionable, but the Buccaneers expect to have him on the field on Sunday. You'd have to be crazy to bench him.
• The Redskins expect Jordan Reed to return this week after missing two games because of a concussion. The Chiefs allow the fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends.
• DeAngelo Williams should return for the Panthers after missing last week's game with a thigh injury. This backfield is too crowded for fantasy owners. I wouldn't play Williams or Jonathan Stewart.
• Delanie Walker is questionable because of a concussion. Given that the Titans and Broncos start late, he might be too great a risk for fantasy owners. Make sure you have a backup ready if you plan on rolling with him.