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.
These teams suffered crushing losses last week, but only one of them was effectively eliminated from playoff contention. That would be Chicago, which could now be staring the end of the Forte era squarely in the face. He had a vintage Forte game last week, running for 84 yards, catching five passes for 39 yards, and finding the end zone once. He’s back to his usual RB1 self. Jackson and Jeffery are both easy plays at wide receiver, though the former might be a bit more controversial in that regard. Jackson, however, has made at least one big play each of the last four weeks, and has scored a touchdown in his past three games. He has the edge in a matchup with Kyle Fuller.
Both of these quarterbacks are potential starters in two-QB leagues, but shouldn’t be near your lineup in a one-QB format. Cousins still has just two games with more than one touchdown, though he has thrown at least one in every game this season. Cutler, meanwhile, pulled the rug out on the fantasy community last week and now has just one touchdown against two picks in his last three games. I remain more down than anyone on the Washington backfield, but Jones got 18 carries last week and gets a Chicago defense that ranks 32nd in rush DVOA. Remember, though, that he has had one meaningful fantasy performance in the last two months, and that was against the Saints. He’s a low-end flex play.
Langford is still getting about 35% of the work out of Chicago’s backfield, but that’s not enough to make him fantasy worthy this week. Miller is a mid-tier TE2 now that Martellus Bennett is out of for the season, but you should be able to find a better option.
All eyes will be on McCoy in his return to Philadelphia, but his two partners in the Buffalo offense will be just as important in fantasy circles this week. Taylor has been on fire the last two weeks, throwing for 502 yards, 8.51 yards per attempt and six touchdowns, and also running for 74 yards and another score. The Eagles, meanwhile, have allowed the last three quarterbacks they’ve faced to score at least 30 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Watkins has been right there alongside Taylor the last two weeks, catching nine passes for 267 yards and three scores. McCoy, meanwhile, has quietly done it all season, ranking eighth among running backs in points this year.
It’s nearly impossible to pin down what is going on in the Philadelphia backfield. Murray got just eight carries last week and reportedly complained about his role in the offense to the owner. Mathews is expected to return from a concussion this week, and could very well lead the team in carries, but that’s mere speculation. At this point, there’s simply too much uncertainty to bank on any Eagles running back, unless you’re devoid of other options. I’d feel better with Shaun Draughn, C.J. Anderson, Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy than Mathews or Murray.
The Eagles may have scored 35 points last week, but Bradford didn’t have anything to do with it. He threw for an anemic 120 yards and 5.0 YPA in the win over the Patriots. Matthews hit pay dirt, but he had just three catches for 36 yards. These aren’t the players you want to rely on in the fantasy playoffs.
Remember when both of these teams were 5–0 and there was a thought that their Week 14 and 16 matchups could decide the NFC South? Now the division isn’t even likely to get two playoff teams, and if it does get a second it’ll likely be the the Buccaneers, not the Falcons. Newton, Stewart and Olsen should all be able to do their thing against a defense that ranks 23rd in DVOA. Stewart, in fact, is our No. 1 running back for Week 14. Freeman and Jones both gave their owners useful games last week, but the ineffectiveness of Matt Ryan is really starting to drag down the two fantasy stars. This won’t be easy, with Jones facing Josh Norman and Freeman facing off with a rush defense that is third in DVOA.
Conditional start: Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess
Ginn and Funchess are the top two wide receivers for the Panthers, and with the way Newton’s playing that at least places them in the WR3 discussion. Newton, however, doesn’t zero in on just one receiver target, with Olsen leading the way among Carolina’s pass catchers. Ginn had five catches, including two touchdowns, on 10 targets last week, but he has had two terrible drops. Funchess, meanwhile, caught just one pass, but it did go for six points. Investing in Carolina is always a good idea, but don’t place anything higher than WR3 expectations on either of these guys.
Why are Ginn and Funchess potential starters, but Cotchery and Brown aren’t? Simply put, if you’re going to bet on a receiver, bet on the ones with volume (Ginn) and talent (Funchess). Any of the four is liable to have the best game of the group, but Ginn and Funchess have the best opportunity to do so.
This should be one of the best games of the weekend, from both real-life and fantasy perspectives. Now, we thought that was going to be the case the first time these teams met, and then the Bengals slogged their way to an ugly 16–10 win. Expect both to make up for it on Sunday. Remember, that was Roethlisberger’s first game back from his knee injury, and both teams looked out of sorts all afternoon. That shouldn’t sway you from benching any of your studs in this game. It would be a shock if the teams combined for fewer than 50 points. For now, we’ll assume Eifert will be able to get back on the field.
Conditional start: Giovani Bernard, Marvin Jones
All the fantasy-relevant Steelers made an appearance above, but there are still two Bengals floating on the periphery this week. Bernard has given way to Hill over the last three weeks as a runner, though he still retains pass-catching duties. Jones, meanwhile, always has the look of a low-end WR3, though the expected scoring bonanza in this game could drive him to greater heights. Think of Bernard as a high-end RB3, Jones as a low-end WR3, and both as potential flex plays.
Just in case you didn’t get the message above, you don’t want to invest in anything related to defense in this game.
Must start: Shaun Draughn, Gary Barnidge
Could there be a more boring game at this stage of the season than this one? There isn’t even any draft intrigue involved after the 49ers beat the Bears last week. Whatever. Draughn has had at least 18 touches and 77 total yards in all four of his starts, and he gets a Browns defense that is 29th in rush DVOA. Barnidge played well in Johnny Manziel’s last start, so any fears related to Josh McCown’s absence should be put to bed. The 49ers are 23rd in DVOA against tight ends.
Benjamin is dealing with a shoulder injury, but he’d check in as a solid WR3 if he were to start. Remember, he has had his best games with Manziel under center, especially since the youngster isn’t afraid to unleash the deep ball with regularity. Boldin has settled into a low-end WR3 tier, though he hasn’t found the end zone since Week 5. Cleveland’s defensive struggles this season, however, make Boldin palatable for someone who’s in a little trouble at receiver.
I’m already bored of this game, and all I’ve done is write a little about it. Manziel and Gabbert on the fringes of the QB2 class, especially because the matchup isn’t bad for either of them. Still, they should be thought of more as punt plays in daily leagues than low-end QB2s in two-QB formats. Johnson’s production has fallen off a cliff in the last month, which means it’s on par with Crowell’s. Don’t even think about starting either of them.
There’s no shame in getting carved up by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers the way the Colts defense did a week ago, but it’s not going to get much better this week. The Bortles-Robinson-Hurns triumvirate is the middle-class version of Roethlisberger-Brown-Bryant. Hurns cleared the concussion protocol early in the week and will be back out there on Sunday. Yeldon had one of the best games of his rookie season last week, running for 57 yards and a touchdown, while hauling in four passes for 79 yards. Most importantly, he was on the field for Jacksonville’s red-zone opportunities. The Colts caught a break when Matt Hasselbeck’s shoulder and neck injuries proved insignificant. His presence will keep Gore and Hilton on the right side of the fantasy ledger.
Conditional start: Matt Hasselbeck, Donte Moncrief
After getting torched by Marcus Mariota last week, the Jaguars have now allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks this season. They’re 31st in pass defense DVOA, 29th in pass rush and 30th in coverage. Hasselbeck is a strong QB2 for Week 14. The matchup also helps push Moncrief into the WR3 discussion. Understand, though, that his bust tendencies—he had just one target last week and has fewer than five points in four of his last five games—push him to the low end of that spectrum.
On their face, these could seem like a pair of somewhat streamable defenses, but the Jaguars’ defense is just too weak to trust, and their offense is too good to consider rolling the dice on the Colts in Jacksonville.
The first time these teams met, the Chiefs cruised to a 33–3 victory behind Alex Smith, Spencer Ware and the defense. We’ll get to the first two in a bit, but the Chiefs’ defense is one of the best plays at the position this week. The Chargers are 29th in pass DVOA, 24th against No. 1 receivers and 31st against tight ends. That bodes well for Maclin, who doubles as one of the hottest receivers over the last two weeks, and Kelce. Expect another comfortable victory for Kansas City. While everything is falling apart in San Diego, Gates might actually be one of the best fantasy tight ends for the rest of the season. Who else is Philip Rivers going to target in the passing game?
Conditional start: Alex Smith, Danny Woodhead
The only reason Smith isn’t a must-start play is because of the depth of the quarterback position. He has played great football all season and should take advantage of the Chargers, but can you really start him over Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor, the quarterbacks I have ninth through 12th, this week? Smith is my No. 13 quarterback, and I’ll be starting him confidently in a two-QB league. He had 253 yards on 25 attempts the first time these teams played, but didn’t throw for a touchdown. That should be different this Sunday. Woodhead hasn’t been immune to the unraveling in San Diego, scoring one touchdown and catching just 18 passes for 186 yards in the last five weeks. He’s no more than a low-end RB3 or flex play.
No fantasy player has fallen farther season than Rivers. It wasn’t more than six weeks ago that we were talking about him potentially finishing as the No. 1 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues. Things have taken an ugly turn, thanks in large part to all the injuries in the receiving corps. Stay away from him in this terrible matchup. As for West and Ware, if one had the backfield to himself, he’d be a top-15 play. With both active, neither can be trusted.
The secret is out about the Jets’ offense, but you still might be surprised to learn it's 11th in pass DVOA. The Jets are the only team in the NFL with a fantasy QB1 (defined as top 12 at his position in total points), an RB1 and two WR1s. In fact, they’d be the only team with a QB1, RB1, WR1 and WR2 if Marshall or Decker fell out of the WR1 class. This is a very productive fantasy offense, and all four should be safely locked in as starters this week. Walker has been the best fantasy tight end over the five weeks, scoring 61.9 points in standard-scoring leagues, 10 more than second-place Greg Olsen.
Mariota is coming off the third monster game of his rookie season, a win over Jacksonville in which he threw for 268 yards, 9.24 YPA and three touchdowns, adding 112 yards and another score on the ground. The once-vaunted Jets defense has been no better than league average over the last six weeks, but it is still ranked fourth in DVOA. Mariota is a mid-tier QB2, making him a strong play in two-QB formats and a risky one in traditional one-QB leagues.
Andrews ran the ball surprisingly well against the Jaguars, picking up 58 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. This was important because, before last week, he hadn’t really impressed against a strong run defense all year. The Jaguars are still ninth in rush defense DVOA, but the Jets are first. As encouraging as Andrews’s Week 13 performance was, he’s still just a mid-range RB3 on Sunday. Green-Beckham again flashed what makes him a potential No. 1 receiver in the future, but he’s still just a low-end WR3 in the present day. His readiness, the overall offensive environment in Tennessee and the up-and-down nature of the offense help keep his ceiling restricted. He should get plenty of volume, though.
Powell was a worthy waiver wire target for Ivory owners this week just in case the starter goes down to injury, but he’s not a real fantasy threat until that happens. Wright, meanwhile, hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 1 and hasn’t scored a touchdown since a week before Halloween.
This could be one of the uglier games of the week, thanks primarily to the Rams. They can’t do anything through the air, but the defense should be able to have its way with Matthew Stafford and the Lions. Gurley’s learning how hard it is to run effectively when you don’t get any help from the passing game, but he has also seen the Cardinals and Bengals the last two weeks. The Lions will be a welcome sight. Johnson has now gone six straight games without reaching the 100-yard mark. It’ll be hard for him to break that streak against a Rams defense that is sixth in pass DVOA and has allowed the fourth-fewest points to receivers.
Stafford’s season-long numbers don’t look that bad, and they appear even better when you remember how terrible the Lions were over the first five games. Stafford ranks 13th among quarterbacks in total points and 19th in points per game, a mini-miracle given the way the season began. A look into his game logs, however, will show that 40.1% of his touchdowns (nine out of 22) and a ridiculous 23.5% of his yards (742 out of 3,164) came in wins over the Bears and Eagles. Outside those two games, Stafford has one top-12 weekly performance this season. He’s barely inside the top 20 at quarterback this week. Abdullah had arguably his best rushing game of the season last week, running for 67 yards on 13 carries. He continues to hold down the feature role in the backfield, and the Rams have proven a bit better against the pass than the run this year. He’s on the flex radar for Week 14. Riddick has turned into a PPR, but only PPR, machine. In full PPR leagues, he’s an RB2. In anything else, he should be on your bench.
Tate doesn’t have more than 80 yards in a game this season, and he has reached that unimpressive level just once. He’s averaging 9.2 yards per catch and 6.09 yards per target. He’s nowhere near back. The other mildly intriguing player on this list, Austin, has a grand total of 82 receiving yards in his last five games. If you’re starting him, you’re betting on a big play in the run game. That may come through from time to time, but it’s always a losing bet.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Get ready for a shootout in Tampa. The Saints have allowed four of the last five quarterbacks they’ve faced to put up at least 29 points in standard-scoring leagues. We’re not talking Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisbeger either. Three of the four were Eli Manning, Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins. They’ve held exactly one quarterback, Brian Hoyer, below his season average. Winston should have his way with this defense. Same goes for Martin, Evans, Jackson and Seferian-Jenkins, all of whom have to be started in standard leagues. The Saints aren’t going to sit idly by and let the Buccaneers have all the fun, though. This Tampa Bay defense is 24th in pass DVOA and 31st in coverage, better than only New Orleans. Brees may be a lot better at home, but this should still be a defense he is able to exploit. He did, however, struggle in the teams’ Week 2 meeting, throwing for just 255 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Saints have allowed three running backs—Shane Vereen, Matt Jones and Mike Tolbert—to score through the air in their last five games. Sims isn’t going to steal away too many carries from Martin, but he is a legitimate weapon in the passing game. You’d still need to be in a bad spot to turn to him, but he is at least a viable flex starter for those in need this week. Snead is expected to return from his calf injury this week, and that would place him firmly on the WR3 radar. If he’s out again, Coleman would take his place, both in real-life and fantasy terms. He got seven targets last week, catching four for 73 yards and a touchdown.
There weren’t any rumbles about Mark Ingram being banged up until news of him having a potentially season-ending shoulder injury surfaced early Wednesday afternoon. Within hours of that first report, the Saints placed him on IR. Hightower appears the better play than Spiller, but both are dart throws. Neither should be in your lineup this week, unless you’re a desperate former Ingram owner.
Well lookie here, another willing patsy for the Seahawks. They could be the hottest team in the league by time the playoffs roll around, a scary thought for teams like the Panthers and Cardinals. (though for the record, I’d still take either of them over Seattle to win the NFC). The Seahawks have been getting it done on offense, averaging 34.5 points over their last four games. The Wilson-to-Baldwin connection has been especially potent over that stretch, hooking up 24 times for 433 yards and six touchdowns. Rawls, meanwhile, is now up to 18 points per game in standard-scoring leagues in his six games leading the Seattle backfield. In three games without Justin Forsett, Allen has 72 touches, 185 rushing yards, 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He’s locked in as a fantasy starter the rest of the way, regardless of matchup.
Conditional start: Kamar Aiken
The volume will be there for Aiken. He got 11 more targets last week and is now averaging 10.75 per game since Steve Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury. The production, however, comes and goes. Aiken caught six of those targets last week for just 48 yards. His role in the offense basically guarantees him a spot at the WR3 table, but the ceiling isn’t much higher. Considering the matchup, you might be better off going in another direction.
Schaub is dealing with multiple ailments and likely won’t practice much this week. That means Clausen could get his second start against the Seahawks this year. Remember, he started for the Bears in Seattle Week 3 when Jay Cutler was out with a hamstring injury. Something tells me his familiarity with the Seattle defense won’t help much.
This is a confounding game for fantasy purposes. The Denver defense makes it hard to have a ton of faith in any of the Raiders, even though many of them have turned into reliable fantasy options. The Broncos’ offense, meanwhile, has righted the ship with Brock Osweiler at the helm, but more from a real-life than fantasy perspective. In three games with Osweiler starting, it has averaged a bit more than 21 points per contest. The ceiling is lower than ever for Thomas and Sanders, though both should be trusted as WR2s. Hillman is still the starter in Denver, and the team leader in carries is a good bet to get to at least RB2 numbers. The fantasy community may want that to be C.J. Anderson, but Hillman retains that status. Benching Murray or Cooper wouldn’t be wise, but you have to temper expectations against the No. 1 DVOA defense in the league.
I’m higher on Carr than most are this week, but the fact remains that you test the Denver defense at your own risk. It has let two quarterbacks score 20 or more points all season, and those were Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. For what it’s worth, Denver held Brady to 1.5 fewer points than his season average. That’s why it might be perilous to roll with the Oakland passing game on Sunday. As for Anderson, he’s still behind Hillman on the depth chart, but we’ve seen Gary Kubiak ride the hot hand all season. Anderson could realistically get anywhere between 10 and 20 carries. The average of his potential outcomes, driven by the uncertainty over his touches, has him no better than a high-end RB3.
Osweiler has done everything the Broncos have asked of him, but that hasn’t translated to fantasy glory. He’s averaging just 14.4 points in his three starts. Osweiler is just barely on the QB2 radar.
Back in August and September, Lacy, Bryant and Cobb were all off the board within the first 25 picks of a typical draft. Now, none can be considered more than a two at his position, and even that could be a stretch for all three. Lacy was shockingly absent from the game plan last week, but Mike McCarthy indicated he’d have every chance to dominate the carries on Sunday. Cobb has been a shell of himself without Jordy Nelson around to stretch the field. Bryant is basically playing with one arm behind his back, metaphorically restrained by Tony Romo’s absence. It would be understandable if any of them were benched in fantasy leagues this week, but all are right on the 2/3 borderline at their positions.
Conditional start: Richard Rodgers
Rodgers has four touchdowns in his last five games, and has developed into a legitimate red-zone target for his quarterback. That, at the very least, places him into the discussion of viable starting tight ends. Having said that, I’d play the likes of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Scott Chandler and Ben Watson over him this week. If you’re in some trouble at the position, though, he can be of service.
There’s plenty of uncertainty in the Green Bay backfield, but you need more than that to think about playing someone like Starks or Crockett. It’s entirely possible that Lacy has fallen entirely out of favor with the coaching staff, but opportunity alone doesn’t make Starks or Crockett a worthy starter this week. What’s more, they might not even have the opportunity at all. Jones has one catch in the last two weeks. Adams hasn’t topped 40 yards in the last three games and just dropped another pass. Cassel turns both Williams and—oh, sorry, Adams just dropped another one—Witten into fantasy afterthoughts.
New England Patriots at Houston Texans
From a real-life perspective, Brady had one of his worst games of the season in the loss to the Eagles. From a fantasy perspective, he was a star. He scored 30.2 fantasy points in the loss, his second-highest output of the season, and that was without Rob Gronkowski. Amendola returned from a one-game absence to catch seven of his 13 targets for 62 yards and a touchdown. Even if Gronk is able to return, Amendola's no worse than the No. 2 option in the passing game. Blount is game-flow and touchdown dependent, which makes it hard to have a ton of faith in him, but his presence in this offense still makes him worth playing in most scenarios. Hopkins bounced back from a shockingly quiet game against the Saints to rack up 88 yards and a touchdown last week. He has had fewer than 10 targets each of the last two weeks after having at least 11 in each of Houston’s first 10 games. Bet on him getting back into double-digits this week.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, James White
No one is talking about the possibility of a Hoyer revenge game. Think about that for a second. In all seriousness, Hoyer could find his way into the starting lineup for two-QB owners thanks to the fact that he’ll likely attempt at least 35 passes on Sunday night. New England is solid in coverage but mediocre in pass rush, which makes for a slightly better than average pass defense as a whole. Hoyer could easily post top-15 numbers this week. White surged to the fore by catching 10 of his 13 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. At the very least, he looks to be in the pass-catching role made so lucrative by Dion Lewis. Still, White should really only be thought of as a potential starter in full PPR leagues. Blount will dominate the carries for New England.
Some people are wondering whether it will be Blue or Polk leading the Houston backfield this week. I’m here to tell you you’re better off ignoring the situation altogether. They’ll likely split whatever low-value carries the team generates in a game where Hoyer will have to lead them through the air. The Texans aren’t going to clear the way to victory on the ground in this one. LaFell has no more than four catches or 66 yards in his last four games. All he has going for him is he’s on the Patriots. That’s not enough to make him a starter in Week 14.
A lot of opening-round fantasy playoff matchups could be decided on Monday night with a pair of players like Miller and Beckham in action. Everyone wants to have their game won by Monday night, but if you are a Miller or Beckham owner who finds himself or herself in that position, take solace in the fact that it’s always more fun to be the person chasing, rather than the one fending off a prime time charge. Also, rest easy in the fact that both players are capable of putting up huge games against defenses ill-equipped to stop them. The same goes for Landry, who gets a Giants defense that is on pace to allow, by far, the most passing yards in a season in NFL history.
There might not be two more frustrating fantasy quarterbacks than the ones who will face off in Miami on Monday night. Manning and Tannehill both have talent and weapons but always seem to take a step back right after having a measure of success, especially this season. The matchup for both is too good to ignore, however, placing them firmly on the QB2 radar. Parker has scored touchdowns in his last two games, flashing his potential No. 1 bona fides with an athletic grab for six in the win over the Ravens last week. He should be considered a WR3 for the rest of the season. Tye is a last resort for owners needy at the tight end position who missed out on the likes of Scott Chandler and Austin Seferian-Jenkins over the last few weeks.
You’re not actually thinking about about starting any of these players, right? Good.