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Fantasy Football: How owners can make late playoff push
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Fantasy Football: How owners can make late playoff push
Wednesday November 25th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly stroll across the league, looking at all the start and sit possibilities for every fantasy-relevant player. Remember, the conditional start players will depend on your roster and league parameters. Use those in conjunction with our weekly rankings to build your best possible lineup.

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Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans

Must start: Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker

Carr and the Oakland passing game fell flat on its face in a great matchup with the Lions last week. The Titans have been awfully tough against the pass, ranking eighth in DVOA, but this offense is too good to fade because of a bad matchup. Murray, however, could be the star given the Titans’ struggles with stopping the run. All your fantasy-relevant Raiders should go in what is a do-or-die game for their playoff hopes. Oakland has mostly fixed its issues covering tight ends, but they’re still more vulnerable than most teams. Walker has turned into a target monster for the Titans, and that won’t change on Sunday. He’s one of the best tight ends to own this week.

Conditional start: Marcus Mariota, Antonio Andrews

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Mariota has played well against bad defenses, while coming up short against the better units he has faced this year. The Raiders fall in the former group, ranking 20th against the pass in DVOA. With all 32 teams in action this week Mariota is outside the QB1 class, but he’s a strong option in two-quarterback leagues, and you can feel free to use him in one-QB formats if you aren’t enamored with your other choices. Andrews had one of his better games of the season a week ago, running for 78 yards on 15 carries. All the metrics point to the Raiders featuring a below average run defense. The concerns here are volume and game script. Andrews may not get more than 15 or 16 touches, and the Raiders definitely could force the Titans to eschew the run if Carr gets back on track. He’s more a high-end RB3 than low-end RB2.

Sit: David Cobb, Andre Holmes, Dorial Green-Beckham, Kendall Wright (knee), Clive Walford, Raiders DST, Titans DST

Green-Beckham’s upside made him an intriguing player during the bye-week portion of the schedule, but there’s no reason to throw darts anymore. Wright is expected to miss another game because of his sprained knee. Even if he plays, he’d be no more than a low-end WR3.

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs

Must start: LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST

McCoy has had at least 100 total yards or a touchdown in all of his last five games. He has hit both of those thresholds twice, and has at least 15 points in standard-scoring leagues in four of those outings. He has played his way back into the RB1 class. For reasons few can understand, Watkins had just six targets against the Patriots last week, three of which came on the team’s final two possessions. During the game, I was reminded of a famous telegram Abraham Lincoln sent to General George McClellan while the latter dithered in Virginia: “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.” If the Bills don’t want to use Watkins, I can think of about 31 other NFL teams that would like to borrow him for a time. This is a great spot for Alex Smith, given Buffalo’s struggles getting after the quarterback. He’s off the QB1 radar, but Maclin and Kelce should take advantage.

Conditional start: Alex Smith, Charcandrick West (hamstring), Spencer Ware, Bills DST

West almost certainly would have had the huge game everyone expected against the Chargers last week had he not suffered a hamstring injury. Instead, Ware came in and ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. This one is pretty straightforward. If West is able to play, you start him. If he’s not and Ware goes, you start him. As for Smith, he’s worth playing in a two-QB league, but he’s still at the low end of the QB2 rankings. We’re still talking about a guy with 10 passing touchdowns in 10 games this season.

Sit: Tyrod Taylor (shoulder), E.J. Manuel, Karlos Williams, Robert Woods, Chris Hogan, Albert Wilson, Charles Clay

Taylor was clearly laboring during the fourth quarter of the Bills’ loss to the Patriots last week, and his status for Sunday is in jeopardy. Even if he’s able to play, it’s hard to see him being at full strength. You don’t want to get involved with a quarterback who is favoring his throwing shoulder or collarbone on his strong side. The touchdown gravy train had to slow down for Williams sooner or later. As well as McCoy is playing, it’s hard to see Williams getting any more than eight touches per game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts

Must start: Doug Martin, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton

Martin is coming off his best game of the season, having run for 235 yards on 27 carries against the stout Philadelphia run defense last week. It’ll be hard to bet on 27 more carries since game flow was a factor, but Martin was gashing the Eagles for huge chunks of yardage time and time again. That bodes well for this matchup. Evans will have to deal with Vontae Davis, but the corner isn’t quite as strong as he was at the beginning of the season now that he’s dealing with various nicks all over his body. You also know you’re likely getting at least 10 targets out of Evans. Hilton had just two catches on four targets last week, but that was with Desmond Trufant across from him most of the game. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a corner anywhere near Trufant’s stature, figuratively or literally.

Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Matt Hasselbeck, Frank Gore, Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers DST

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Don’t chase the points with Winston. Yes, he had a phenomenal game last week, throwing for five touchdowns in a rout of the Eagles, but it’s not as though he turned some magical QB1 corner. He is, as he has been all year, a mid-tier to low-end QB2 this week. Same goes for Hasselbeck, who mostly takes good care of the ball, last week’s interceptions notwithstanding. I prefer Winston of these two. You’re likely starting Gore if you own him, but he’s down here to make a point. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in rush defense DVOA and is in the middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to running backs. The Buccaneers have also surrendered just 3.7 yards per carry, tied for fourth best in the league. Gore, who has been no more than a middling fantasy option this year and isn’t quite 100% due to a quad contusion, could really disappoint this week.

Sit: Charles Sims, Ahmad Bradshaw, Donte Moncrief, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Colts DST

Sims and Bradshaw both have a tiny bit of appeal in full PPR leagues. Even in those formats, which cater to their strengths, they’re RB3/4s.

New York Giants at Washington Redskins

Must start: Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Jordan Reed (knee)

Manning had one of his better games against this Washington team back in Week 3, throwing for 279 yards, 8.72 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. Beckham was responsible for 79 of those yards and one score on seven catches, and Washington’s pass defense has only gotten worse since then. It ranks 26th in coverage and 19th in DVOA. Reed sprained an MCL last week, an injury we’ve become very familiar with this season. From Ben Roethlisberger to Marcus Mariota to Matt Forte, we’ve seen a number of timetables applied to the injury, but they all require at least a few weeks on the shelf. Washington is holding out hope that Reed will be able to go, but fantasy owners should be ready to go in another direction.

Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Rueben Randle, DeSean Jackson, Giants DST

We know Cousins is more than capable of taking advantage of good matchups, and the Giants rank 22nd in pass DVOA, 25th in YPA against, 25th in pass coverage and 29th in pass rush. Cousins is a strong QB2 this week. That also helps Jackson, who would move into must-start range if Reed has to sit because of his knee injury. Randle torched Washington for seven catches, 116 yards and one touchdown in that Week 3 meeting. He gets the same bump Manning and Beckham do with Washington’s pass defense downgraded since then.

Sit: Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Matt Jones, Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, Dwayne Harris, Pierre Garcon, Larry Donnell, Redskind DST

These teams have had two of the most anemic rushing attacks this season, and they combine for a first here in the 2015 season. This is the first game where there isn’t one running back who is even a conditional start. If you own a running back in this game, don’t even think about starting him, no matter who it is. There are slight cases to be made for Vereen and Thompson in PPR leagues, and even there you’d be stretching.

New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans

Must start: Drew Brees, Brian Hoyer, Mark Ingram, Alfred Blue, Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins, Ben Watson

The Saints drive the start/sit decisions in this game, both offensively and defensively. On their side, Brees is once again firing on all cylinders, averaging 21.9 points per game, which is good for fourth among quarterbacks. Ingram has the fifth-most points among running backs, and the Texans check in at 19th in rush defense DVOA. Cooks has been one of the hottest receivers in the last month, racking up 15 catches for 257 yards and five touchdowns in his previous three games. On the other side, they can’t stop anyone through the air or on the ground. The Saints rank 32nd in defense DVOA, 32nd against the pass and 24th against the run. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced—Eli Manning, Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins, not exactly the toughest of opponents—have combined for 1,045 yards, 9.95 YPA, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions, translating to 32.77 points per game. Even Blue is an easy start in this game.

Conditional start: Willie Snead, Cecil Shorts, Texans DST

The same numbers are at play here, but the depth of the wide receiver pool with all 32 teams active makes Snead and Shorts no more than low-end WR3s. Matchup could dictate that both are starters, depending on your roster, but you can live with benching them this week.

Sit: C.J. Spiller, Jonathan Grimes, Marques Colston, Nate Washington, Saints DST

Even with great matchups and a high-scoring game as a tailwind, none of the players above should be near your radar this, or any, week.

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons

Must start: Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman (concussion), Stefon Diggs, Julio Jones

The top-two fantasy running backs, at least by total points, should be squaring off in this game. We know Peterson will be out there. As for Freeman, he’s going through the concussion protocol, and the early indications are that he’ll be able to suit up on Sunday. You already know that one team in this game is solid against the run, but did you know it’s Atlanta? The Falcons rank ninth in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus, and are 16th in rush defense DVOA. The Vikings meanwhile, rate 17th and 28th, respectively. The Vikings need to figure out a way to get the ball downfield to Diggs with more consistency. He had six deep targets in his first three games, catching five for 137 and a touchdown. He has had just two in the three games since, and didn’t catch either.

Conditional start: Matt Ryan, Tevin Coleman, Leonard Hankerson, Vikings DST, Falcons DST

Ryan is the 14th-ranked quarterback by total points and 21st by points per game this season. He’s far from a sure thing, especially against a Minnesota defense that has surrendered the sixth-fewest points to quarterbacks this season. He’s really no better than a QB2, though he is toward the top of that group. Coleman would be a worthy starter if Freeman is out, but that’s already looking unlikely. Hankerson returned from his hamstring injury last week to catch four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. He’s the No. 2 option in the passing game, and that alone makes him at least a low-end WR3.

Sit: Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Roddy White, Kyle Rudolph, Jacob Tamme

Rudolph had a monster game against the Packers last week, catching six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings could clearly use another consistent weapon alongside Diggs in the passing game, and it doesn’t appear that Wallace or Johnson will be that guy. Rudolph has had nine lives in Minnesota, and could still become on of Bridgewater’s favored targets.

St. Louis Rams at Cincinnati Bengals

Must start: Andy Dalton, Todd Gurley, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Rams DST, Bengals DST

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​Dalton and the Bengals will have their hands full on Sunday, but they’ve faced two similar tests this year and come through for their fantasy owners. In a Week 5 matchup with the Seahawks, Dalton threw for 331 yards, 7.52 YPA, two touchdowns and one interception in an overtime victory. Just last week against the Cardinals, Dalton totaled 315 yards, 8.08 YPA and two mores scores in a narrow loss. The Rams are the best of the trio in DVOA checking in at No. 4, but the Seahawks and Cardinals are the next two teams in the standings. As long as Dalton plays well, you’ll want your other fantasy-relevant Bengals in your lineups. Gurley is still making plays and has scored in each of the last five weeks, but the St. Louis passing game is having a detrimental effect on his production. In short, no defense is scared of Case Keenum or Nick Foles and, as such, Gurley is seeing loaded fronts every time he touches the ball. He has just 200 yards on 61 carries (3.28 ypc) in his last three games.

Conditional start: Jeremy Hill

You know the story with Hill by this point of the season. He has significant touchdown upside in every game, but he needs those six-point scores to show up for his fantasy owners. It’s always risky to bet on that, especially against this caliber of defense. Consider him a high-end RB3 and solid flex play this week.

Sit: Case Keenum (concussion), Nick Foles, Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Marvin Jones, Jared Cook

Jones is the only player here you’d really consider in any context, but he was really more of a bye-week starter than someone you want in your lineups when you have your entire roster available. Add in the bad matchup, and it becomes clear that you should look elsewhere.

San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars

Must start: Philip Rivers, Blake Bortles, Danny Woodhead, T.J. Yeldon, Stevie Johnson, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Antonio Gates (everything)

Keenan Allen isn’t Jordy Nelson, but his absence, and the resulting affect on the San Diego offense, parallels what we’ve seen in Green Bay this season. In the two games since losing Allen, the Chargers have 22 points and Rivers has thrown for just 458 yards, 6.36 YPA and one touchdown against one interception. The safest play on the team, all things considered, is Johnson, who should see at least 10 targets in this game. As for Jacksonville, Bortles has flopped in a couple of good matchups, but it’s not yet time to get nervous. That would change if he struggles against the Chargers and their 31st-ranked defense in DVOA. They’re 27th against the pass and 32nd against the run, so all the fantasy-relevant Jaguars should have fun on Sunday.

Conditional start: No one

Pretty cut and dried down in Jacksonville this week.

Sit: Melvin Gordon, Denard Robinson, Dontrelle Inman, Ladarius Green, Julius Thomas, Chargers DST, Jaguars DST

Gordon got another shot with a significant number of carries last week, toting the rock 15 times. He picked up 37 yards. Let’s just revisit his status in 2016, okay? As for Thomas, he found the end zone last week but had five catches for just 28 yards. You don’t want to count on him scoring a touchdown, which is the only way he’ll provide any fantasy value.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

Must start: Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, Jarvis Landry, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jets DST

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​The quarterbacks could very well determine the winner of this game, but neither is on the QB1 radar. The running backs, meanwhile, are both top-10 options, though they’ve sort of traded roles of late. At the beginning of the season, Ivory was the rock-solid RB1 while Miller was toiling in mediocrity. Over the last five weeks, Miller has been a star while Ivory’s performance has vacillated from week to week. Each should be the focal point of their respective offenses this week, though the matchup is much better for Ivory than it is for Miller. The Dolphins have been nearly as bad against the pass as they have against the run, so Marshall and Decker could be in for big games, as well. Buster Skrine, the Jets’ top slot corner, has allowed a 98.1 quarterback rating this year. Landry should take advantage.

Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick’s job security came into question after last week’s loss to the Texans, but Todd Bowles isn’t ready to move on just yet. It seems a little ridiculous that there’d be any clamoring for Geno Smith, given that Fitzpatrick has provided a mostly steady hand this season, but that’s life in the NFL. He should be able to bounce back this week, and is a relatively easy play in two-quarterback leagues.

Sit: Ryan Tannehill, Jay Ajayi, Rishard Matthews, Jordan Cameron, Dolphins DST

Rather than taking the leap so many thought he would, Tannehill has been a colossal disappointment. He’s ranked No. 16 in raw points and No. 24 in points per game, trailing Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler. Even though the shine has come off this Jets’ defense a bit in recent weeks, you should stay away from Tannehill.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Must start: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals DST

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The 49ers managed to sort of make it a game for a bit in Seattle last week. Can they do any better hosting the Cardinals this week? The bet here is they do a whole lot worse. Palmer is the best quarterback play this week, and Johnson should get 20-plus carries with the win well in hand in the second half. Fitzgerald is the lone healthy receiver in Arizona who has also had a significant role in the offense all year. The 49ers are 30th in overall defensive DVOA, 30th against the pass and 23rd against the run. They’ve surrendered the 12th-most points to quarterbacks, fourth-most to running backs, and fifth-most to receivers. Enjoy if you own someone on Arizona.

Conditional start: John Brown (hamstring), Michael Floyd (hamstring)

There’s no doubt Brown will play, but he still might be at less than 100% because of his nagging hamstring injury. Still, it’s going to be hard to sit him in this matchup if he’s active. The only concern would be that Johnson and Fitzgerald hog all the fun, and he’s left out with the game already out of control. Floyd is unlikely to play this weekend, but he’d be a worthy WR2/3 if he is able to go. Unfortunately, the late kickoff might mean that his fantasy owners need to make a decision before knowing whether or not he will play. If that’s the case you should sit him, assuming you have another viable starting option.

Sit: All the 49ers as usual, David Johnson, Andre Ellington, J.J. Nelson

Before last week, Nelson had three catches for 70 yards this season, and all of those came in the Week 8 win over the Browns. Bruce Arians has a way of hiding a rookie before springing him on the league in the second half of the season, but it wouldn’t be wise to bet on Nelson in your lineups this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks

Must start: Ben Roethlisberger, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Rawls, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Jimmy Graham

Talking about matchups is simply unavoidable whenever discussing the fantasy realm, but too much emphasis can be placed on matchups without considering the actual players themselves. No matter how good Seattle’s defense is, you never sit anyone on this Pittsburgh offense. Even without Le’Veon Bell, it can kick into high gear against any opponent. You’re obviously starting Brown, but you should not be afraid to play Roethlisberger, Williams or Bryant this week. With Marshawn Lynch (sports hernia) likely out, Rawls is thrust into the fantasy spotlight. In four games Lynch has missed all or most of, Rawls is averaging 18.88 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. He has an RB1 ceiling, so long as he starts.

Conditional start: Russell Wilson

Wilson had his best game of the season last week, throwing for 260 yards, 8.97 YPA and three touchdowns in the win over the 49ers. Pittsburgh isn’t throwing it back to the days of Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton, but they’re still much better than the 49ers. Wilson has settled into a QB1/2 role this year, more often coming out on the bad side. That’s where he slots again this week.

Sit: Marshawn Lynch (sports hernia), Doug Baldwin (ankle), Tyler Lockett, Heath Miller, Steelers DST, Seahawks DST

That last one might come as a surprise, but offense drives matchups in the NFL today. I don’t care how good a defense is, I’m just not comfortable targeting Roethlisberger and the Steelers. I’d rather stream a lesser group going against a weaker offense. As for Baldwin and Lockett, one could show up for fantasy owners in this game, they’re both outside the top-40 projected receivers. Lockett had two scores last week, but he also had just 48 yards and five targets. Baldwin, meanwhile, is nursing an ankle sprain. Stay away.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Must start: Tom Brady, LeGarrette Blount, Ronnie Hillman, Brandon LaFell, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST

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We’ve been robbed of perhaps our last ever Brady-Manning showdown, and Brady himself has been robbed of three key weapons. It’s hard to slow down this New England offense, but every team has a breaking point. The floor for Brady remains remarkably high, but without Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and, to a lesser extent, Danny Amendola, the ceiling isn’t quite as high. Rob Gronkowski has been surprisingly quiet of late—he had three touchdowns in Week 1 and has just five in the nine games since then. The Patriots should try to get him 10-plus targets in this game. Brock Osweiler really opened up the Broncos run game last week, especially since he was able to take the lion’s share of the snaps from under center. That should make Hillman a locked-in starter for the rest of the season.

Conditional start: C.J. Anderson, Vernon Davis, Broncos DST

It’s no secret what the Broncos will try to do in this game. If they’re going to deal the Patriots their first loss, they’ll have to control the clock with their run game and keep Brady off the field. That gameplan could turn Anderson into an RB2, should it prove successful. We should state, however, that is a best-case scenario. As you prepare your lineups, you should be thinking of Anderson as a mid-tier RB3 or potential flex in deeper leagues. Davis’ role continues to grow in Denver’s offense. He caught all six of his targets for 68 yards last week. Owen Daniels had four catches for 69 yards, but it appears Davis is the No. 1 tight end to Daniels’ 1a.

Sit: Brock Osweiler, James White, Brandon Bolden, Danny Amendola (knee), Keshawn Martin (hamstring), Aaron Dobson (ankle), Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), Cody Latimer, Owen Daniels

White had a pair of touchdowns last week and looks like the favorite to retain the role Lewis made so lucrative this season, but he’s no Lewis. There’s a much better than average chance we all saw White’s best game of the season last week. If you play him, you’re basically betting on the trickle-down effect of the Patriots offense. Amendola, Martin and Dobson, all of whom could be attractive if healthy, are all expected to be out this week. Sanders, meanwhile, is dealing with a high ankle sprain that will likely cost him at least one more game. Latimer is a decent long-range option in deeper leagues, but you should be considering him unless your league has 14 or more teams.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns

Must start: Buck Allen, Kamar Aiken, Gary Barnidge

Are you ready for some football?! A Monday night … nevermind. The strength of fantasy football will shine through on Monday night when a game between the 3–7 Ravens and 2–8 Browns, featuring Matt Schaub and Josh McCown, crushes all other sports in the ratings. Allen will get his first start with Justin Forsett out for the year, and steps into a great matchup with a Browns defense that is 30th in rush DVOA and has allowed the fifth-most points to running backs. Aiken should be started in most formats, since he's a sure bet to get at least eight targets, and that should help him to WR2/3 numbers. Barnidge might be the only person other than McCown who's happy that the veteran is back under center this week. He has done nearly all his damage with McCown at the helm.

Conditional start: Josh McCown, Duke Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Ravens DST, Browns DST

The Ravens have allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks this season. They rank 25th in pass defense DVOA, 19th in pass rush and 21st in pass coverage. In other words, McCown, who is 12th among quarterbacks in points per game this year, is an advisable start in two-QB formats. Remember, he threw for 457 yards and two touchdowns in his first game against Baltimore this season. Benjamin caught six of his 11 targets for 83 yards in that game, while Johnson racked up 77 yards on 15 touches. Both are in the flex conversation this week. Neither of these defenses is good, but the offenses may be even worse. That makes both defenses potential streamers.

Sit: Matt Schaub, Isaiah Crowell, Chris Givens, Brian Hartline, Crockett Gillmore

Let’s just get to Week 13, whaddya say?

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