Fantasy owners have been able to rely on the Philadelphia offense for most of the season. LeSean McCoy got off to a slow start, but he’s now the 10th-ranked running back in standard-scoring leagues. Jeremy Maclin is fantasy’s No. 4 receiver in points per game, trailing only Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson. Whether it has been Nick Foles or Mark Sanchez at the controls of Chip Kelly’s offense, the Eagles have produced for fantasy owners. They’re fourth in the league in yards and points per game, piling up 416.2 yards and 31.3 points in an average contest. That’s an offense in which a fantasy owner wants to invest. That fact does not change with the Eagles hosting the Seahawks on Sunday.
I grant that the Seahawks have a very good defense and that you shouldn’t be penciling Maclin or Sanchez or McCoy in for top-five days at their respective positions. All McCoy owners are starting him regardless, but there’s a lot of downgrades going around for Maclin and Sanchez. Before we get to why that’s a mistake, let’s first look at why owners are giving in to that temptation.
At face value, sitting Sanchez and having trepidation about Maclin makes sense. The Seahawks have allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and receivers this season. They’re one of just three teams that have held opponents to fewer than 200 passing yards per game (the others are Kansas City and Miami). The Seahawks are tied for fifth in yards per attempt against (6.5) and third in touchdowns against (15). No matter how you slice it, they’ve been one of the hardest teams to throw on this year.
Dig into those numbers, however, and you’ll find reason for optimism for the Eagles this week. All you can do is beat the teams on your schedule, but the Seahawks haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks this year. In the last seven weeks, they’ve played against Colin Kaepernick, Drew Stanton, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, Cam Newton and Austin Davis. In the three games before that run of nonintimidating quarterbacks, they surrendered an average of 21.27 points to the trio of Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins.
If you’re anything like the folks on Twitter who responded to me when I put this out on Friday, you’re probably saying that Sanchez belongs in that Kaepernick-Stanton-Smith group, and perhaps you have a point there. On his own merits, Sanchez isn’t a world-beater, either. Those lackluster quarterbacks who failed against Seattle, however, don’t have two things that Sanchez does. First, they don’t have his weapons. With McCoy, Maclin and Jordan Matthews at his disposal, Sanchez enters pretty much every game with a relatively high floor. Second, they don’t have an offense designed by Chip Kelly. Unless something changes significantly in the final four weeks of the season, Kelly’s Eagles will finish in the top five in yards and points for the second-straight season. Only them and the Broncos are on pace to achieve that feat.
Sanchez isn’t likely to put up top-five numbers at the quarterback position this week, but this is a bankable offense no matter the opponent. The over/under on this game is 48.5 and the Eagles are favored by one. Some crude math tells you that Vegas expects the Eagles to score somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 points. If that hits, Sanchez will put up, at worst, low-end QB1 numbers.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the last-minute news you need in Week 14's Cheat Sheet.
The first unexpected playoff hero is ready to emerge
In most seasons, a surprise player gets hot for a few weeks in December and ends up having songs sung about his late-season heroics for all time. The unheralded player who goes off for three consecutive weeks, however, is rare. Far more players come up with one huge game in the fantasy playoffs, doing more than their share to lift their owners to the pinnacle of fantasy success. One player is ready to do just that this week, and it’s none other than the Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart.
Stewart looked like a young version of himself last week, running for 85 yards on 12 carries in a loss to the Vikings. He had runs of 26, 18 and 14 yards, and also had an 18-yard reception. DeAngelo Williams broke a finger last week, and will miss this week’s game against the Saints. You can usually bet on at least one of these two being hurt, but rarely can you count on one of them being fully healthy. It appears that’s the status Stewart brings into what should be a great matchup in Week 14.
The Saints have allowed the fourth-most points to running backs this year. They’ve prevented a team from boasting a running back with double-digit fantasy points just twice all season. Here’s what the lead backs on the Saints’ last four opponents have done against them.
Frank Gore — 21 carries, 81 yards, one touchdown, one catch, two yards
Jeremy Hill — 27 carries, 152 yards, one catch, 13 yards
Justin Forsett — 22 carries, 182 yards, two touchdowns, two catches, eight yards
Le’Veon Bell — 21 carries, 95 yards, one touchdown, eight catches, 159 yards
You pretty much want any lead back playing the Saints in your lineup right now, especially if he’s getting the bulk of the touches out of the backfield as Stewart should on Sunday. In Carolina’s first meeting with New Orleans this season, Stewart had 46 yards on just eight totes. With double that number of touches almost certain in Week 14, Stewart should easily post RB2 production.
Lamar Miller gets a boost
When I first sat down to do my preliminary rankings for this week, I had Miller as a borderline flex play. The Dolphins host the Ravens in a crucial game for AFC playoff positioning. Baltimore’s defense has been a nightmare for opposing running backs this year. It has surrendered the fewest fantasy points to the position, giving up just 3.46 yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns. With that tough of a test on the horizon, Miller looked like fantasy bench material for Week 14.
Everything changed when news of Haloti Ngata’s suspension broke. The dominant defensive lineman will miss the rest of the regular season after earning himself a four-game suspension for violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Ngata is, of course, the heart of Baltimore’s run defense. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the eighth-best player at his position this year, and 10th-best specifically against the run. Looking for the reason why the Ravens have yet to let a running back score 12 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in a game this year? Look no further than big No. 92.
With Ngata out, the trickle-down effect on the Ravens’ defense will be enormous. He isn’t just the reason that they’ve been so tough against the run. He is also the crux of their 3-4 scheme. With Ngata out, rookie Timmy Jernigan, a second-round pick out of Florida State, takes on a larger role in the defense. That makes this entire unit a whole lot less imposing.
Miller has been a consistent fantasy producer all season, no matter the opponent. He recorded 83 total yards and a touchdown against the lowly Bears, and also ripped off 86 yards on just 15 carries against the Bills’ stout run defense. Now that the Ravens will be without their best defensive player, Miller is a strong RB2 candidate this week. On top of that, owners should plan on getting all their other fantasy-relevant Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry — active, as well.
Torrey Smith — Smith returned to practice on Friday and looks good to go for Sunday despite suffering a knee injury last week. Smith is one of those guys I seem to get asked about in start/sit questions every week, and I’m trying to figure out why. Here’s his fantasy points by week, starting with Week 4: 11.3, 3.8, 17.1, 14.1, 0, 12.3, 13.5, 9.8, 18.5. Smith has put up at least WR2 numbers in seven of his last nine games. For whatever reason, though, people continue to hold his slow start to the season against him. Miami features a strong pass defense, but Smith is an easy flex play this, and every, week.
LeGarrette Blount — Blount has double-digit carries in both of his games with the Patriots, and I’m predicting a favorable script for him on Sunday night. The Chargers may be in the thick of the playoff race at 8-4, but this New England team is in an elite tier with Green Bay and Denver. Before losing to the Packers last week, the Patriots ripped off three straight wins over the Broncos, Colts and Lions — three teams that are a combined 25-11 — by a total score of 119-50. The Patriots should handle the Chargers, and that could mean a heavy dose of Blount in the second half.
Latavius Murray — Murray is set to return to the field after missing last week’s game with a concussion. Despite his breakout against the Chiefs two weeks ago, fantasy owners should not be rushing to get Murray back into their lineups. He has a brutal matchup with a 49ers defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest points to running backs this year. San Francisco could very well win this game going away, forcing Oakland to phase out the run. The death knell for his fantasy value, though, is that head coach Tony Sparano said he won’t be the workhorse back. If Murray’s getting only 10-to-12 touches in this game, I don’t like his chances to post useful fantasy numbers.
Mohamed Sanu — Sanu’s production has slowed significantly over the last month. In his previous four games, he has just 12 catches for 110 yards and one touchdown. Of course, that coincides with A.J. Green’s return to full health. In that span, Sanu also has just 23 targets. In the four games Green missed or was at less than 100 percent, Sanu had a total of 40 targets. As the second receiver in the Cincinnati offense, Sanu is a very important real-life player. He’s also a fantasy afterthought.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
• No significant injuries
Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns
• Vontae Davis (concussion) has been ruled out for Sunday. Get ready for Josh Gordon’s first monster game of the 2014 season. Dwayne Allen is set to return after missing two games with an ankle injury. He’s a low-end TE1 this week.
• Isaiah Crowell was a limited participant in Friday’s practice due to a hip injury and is listed as questionable. Thankfully, this is an early kick. If he goes, he’s a strong RB2. If he’s out, Terrance West would be a worthy fantasy starter. Jordan Cameron is questionable because of lingering concussion symptoms. You should be able to find a better fantasy option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
• Bobby Rainey (ankle) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) both sat out Friday’s practice and are listed as questionable. Luckily, you weren’t considering starting them, anyway.
• Reggie Bush will make his return from an ankle injury this week. He’s a strong flex play against a Tampa Bay defense that has struggled with pass-catching backs this season.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
• Arian Foster (groin) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will start on Sunday. He’s a slam-dunk RB1.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
• Torrey Smith and Justin Forsett returned to practice on Friday with their respective knee injuries. Smith is listed as probable, but Forsett was only a limited participant and is questionable. If he starts for the Ravens, he of course starts for you, as well. Bernard Pierce would not even be worth playing if Forsett is out.
• Mike Wallace (chest) was limited in practice all week, but is listed as probable. He’s a strong play against a Baltimore defense that has allowed the most points to receivers this year. Charles Clay is questionable with a hamstring injury and shouldn’t be on your radar.
New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
• Jerick McKinnon has already been ruled out with a back injury. Matt Asiata is a low-end RB3, while Ben Tate is persona non grata in fantasy leagues of all sizes.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
• Greg Olsen (knee) practiced on a limited basis Friday and is listed as questionable. The Panthers expect to have him available, and he’d carry his usual must-start status if he plays. As stated earlier, DeAngelo Williams is out with a broken finger.
• Mark Ingram was limited in practice Friday because of an ankle injury, but he’s listed as probable. He could go off against the weak Carolina run defense.
New York Giants at Tennessee Titans
• Rashad Jennings was limited all week because of an ankle injury, but the good news is he got back to practice on Friday. He’s listed as questionable, but expect him to be out there. If he does have to sit, Andre Williams would be an RB2.
• Kendall Wright (hand) didn’t practice all week because and is not expected to play, though he’s carrying a questionable tag. Zach Mettenberger (shoulder) is also questionable, but is expected to start.
St Louis Rams at Washington Redskins
• DeSean Jackson (shin) didn’t practice all week and is considered a true game-time decision. Consider him a WR2 if he’s able to give it a go.
Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals
• Jamaal Charles suffered a bruised knee last week, but he practiced in full on Friday and is good to go.
• Andre Ellington is out with a hip injury, but fantasy owners should stay away from both Marion Grice and Stepfan Taylor, unless absolutely desperate. Larry Fitzerald (knee) was a full participant in practice, but is still listed as questionable. If you have viable options available in the early games, play them over Fitzgerald.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
• Wide receivers Sammy Watkins (hip) and Robert Woods (ankle) were both limited on Friday, but both are designated as probable. Neither is more than a low-end WR3 this week, but there could be a lot of targets to go around.
• Julius Thomas (ankle) was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable. If you have a player typically worthy of starting playing in the early games, don’t roll the dice on Thomas. If you don’t or have a good insurance policy playing late, it would be worth it to wait and see if Thomas can go. Demaryius Thomas (ankle) and C.J. Anderson (ankle) are on the injury report, but both will start.
San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders
• Michael Crabtree is probable with a knee injury, but he’s off the fantasy radar, at least as a starter, at this point. Carlos Hyde could get more run in this game, but he is dealing with a shoulder injury. He is, however, listed as probable.
• Latavius Murray (concussion) will return this week, but is a risky fantasy play.
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
• No significant injuries
Sunday Night Football
New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
• The Patriots’ injury report is littered with skill players, as Julian Edelman (thigh), Brandon LaFell (shoulder) and Shane Vereen (ankle) are all questionable. All are expected to play, but LaFell is the only sure fantasy starter in the bunch.
Monday Night Football
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers
• The official injury report is not yet available, but it’s worth noting that Roddy White did not practice on Friday. It’s going to be hard for fantasy owners to trust him with the Monday night start unless the Falcons state without equivocation on Sunday that he will play. NFL teams generally aren’t into such bold statements. Plan on going in another direction.