Start 'Em, Sit 'Em Week 14: How to approach first round of the playoffs
The playoffs are upon most of the fantasy community this week, meaning it’s time for most of you reading this to get ready for disappointment. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is true.
If your playoffs indeed do start in Week 14, that means you’re in a league with six or eight playoff spots. Five or seven of you are going to be very disappointed sometime between this Monday and Christmas. One-sixth or one-eighth aren’t great percentages, no matter how good your team is. The fantasy playoffs always are, and forever will be, a crapshoot. That’s why leagues that are worth their salt give just as much, if not a greater reward for winning the regular season and having the most total points in the league. Everyone remembers the playoff champ as their league’s true champion, with the best regular-season teams gaining no advantage, other than a bye in some cases.
It’s time for that to change. I’ll have a full slate of alterations to make our great game even better in the coming weeks, but for now I’d like to highlight my favorite potential playoff wrinkle. It’s one that I’ve championed for years now and can make your playoffs more fun and replete with bulletin board material. But first, a practical depiction of the problem.
I’m in an auction league with friends where eight teams make the playoffs. I have a loaded roster in that league (Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, Alfred Morris), but had some bad schedule luck. On the plus side, I had the second-most points in the league. Unfortunately, I had the most points against. I went on a four-game winning streak to end the season at 6-7 in seventh place, qualifying for the playoffs. I’ll meet the second-place team in the first round.
That seems pretty unfair for the owner of that second-place team, doesn’t it? He went 8-5, had a good team throughout the season, and was one win away from being crowned the regular-season champion. Now all he gets for his trouble is a first-round meeting with the team that had the second-most points in the league. Isn’t there a better way to do this, rather than letting the vagaries of the fantasy schedule determine playoff matchups?
There is, my friends. Instead of a traditional seeding process, I propose that the top seeds get to pick their playoff opponents. In this scenario, the regular season champ would choose any of the other seven playoff teams to be their first-round adversary. Theoretically, he or she could pick the team that finished in second place. The next best team would then pick their opponent, and so on, until all matchups are set for the week ahead. The process would then repeat itself in the semifinals.
Not only is this more equitable -- after all, how often do you see a situation like the one in my league described above? -- it’s a lot more fun. There’s already enough of a thrill in pulling off a playoff upset, but if that rival owner, in most cases a friend, chose to play against you, the bragging rights increase exponentially. And don’t forget, fun is the reason we engage in this whole enterprise in the first place. Sure, we take it seriously and everyone wants to win, but ultimately it’s a way to make the four months of the NFL regular season even more enjoyable than it already is.
With that, let’s get to the SI.com Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em for Week 14.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller
Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin sounded contradictory notes about Bell’s usage for the remainder of the season, but if the Steelers are going to emerge from the crowded AFC North to make the playoffs, they’ll have to ride their star second-year back. He should feast against a Bengals defense that has allowed the seventh-most points to running backs this year. Cincinnati has been much better against the pass, and Roethlisberger did have to deal with a hand injury last week, but neither should be a concern on Sunday. The Bengals’ pass rush ranks dead last in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Miller has 153 yards in the last two weeks, and is the No. 12 tight end in my rankings this week.
Bengals: Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green
Last week it was Bernard who came out on the better end of the backfield timeshare. He ran for 49 yards on 10 carries, while Hill had 40 yards on 13 totes. However, Hill got four targets to Bernard’s one, and he played a handful more snaps. That was not the case in Bernard’s first game back from a groin injury two weeks ago, when he played 60 percent of the snaps and Hill played 40 percent. Fantasy owners have to consider this a true 50/50 split. Both guys are worth playing this week, though I have Bernard slotted as an RB2 and Hill as a flex. In five games since returning from a toe injury, Green has 28 catches for 472 yards and three touchdowns, good for 13.04 points per game.
Steelers: Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Steelers DST
Bryant scored six touchdowns in his first four career games. Since then, he has three catches for 34 yards, and has started ceding a few snaps to Moore here and there. The Bryant ship has sailed, at least for this year. You shouldn’t have to dig this deep in the playoffs. The Steelers are one of the most top-heavy teams in the league. Bell and Brown are stars, and Roethlisberger is an easy starter, but the rest of the roster can more or less be ignored weekly.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
The Daltoncoaster is always in service at the amusement park that is the NFL, but there haven’t been as many peaks this year as there have been in previous seasons. He’s getting 7.09 yards per attempt this year, and has thrown as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns. Even with a healthy Green the last five weeks, he has thrown seven touchdowns against nine picks.
St. Louis Rams at Washington Redskins (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
Rams: Tre Mason, Rams DST
Mason came up huge in a great matchup last week, totaling 164 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the Rams’ dismantling of the Raiders. This week’s matchup isn’t nearly as good, as Washington has allowed just 3.8 yards per carry to running backs this season, but St. Louis should know where its bread is buttered at this point. If Mason gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 carries, which he has in all but one game as the starter, he should give his owners RB2 production. He’s not a slam-dunk fantasy starter for the rest of the year, but this is a decent spot to get him active.
Redskins: Alfred Morris, Jordan Reed
In the last six weeks, Morris has had the following number of carries: 18, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 17. He has surpassed 90 rushing yards three times, 80 total yards five times, and has scored four touchdowns. With DeSean Jackson potentially out due to a leg injury, Washington could ride Morris even more than it has the last month and a half. Reed took over as the primary pass-catcher after Jackson’s injury and finished with nine catches for 123 yards. He’s an easy start for his owners this week, unless they also own Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
Rams: Shaun Hill, Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook
Let’s talk about Bailey, who was one of the toughest omissions this week. If you’re in a slightly deeper league, you can definitely get him in your lineup with confidence. Our bet a few weeks back was that Bailey was going to be the main beneficiary of Brian Quick’s injury, and that is finally starting to come to fruition. In the last two weeks, he has 12 catches for 189 yards and a score. It should come as little surprise that they are the only games this season in which he had at least six targets. Washington has allowed the sixth-most points to receivers this year. If a Rams’ receiver goes off this week, chances are it will be Bailey.
Redskins: Colt McCoy, Roy Helu, DeSean Jackson (leg), Pierre Garcon, Niles Paul, Redskins DST
Jackson’s injury looked catastrophic when it happened, but it appears he avoided doing serious damage to his leg. Having said that, he has yet to practice this week, and there’s a good chance he’s out on Sunday. Thankfully for his owners, this is an early kickoff. If he plays for Washington, he should play for you. McCoy threw for 392 yards and three scores in the loss to the Colts last week. He has earned himself the starting gig for the rest of the season, but he shouldn’t be in fantasy lineups this week. He can, however, be rostered in case of an emergency.
New York Giants at Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
Giants: Rashad Jennings (ankle), Odell Beckham
Jennings suffered an ankle injury late in the Giants’ loss to the Jaguars that has his status somewhat in doubt this week. He ran for 91 yards and a pair of scores on 26 carries before the injury, and all signs point to him playing this week. That would be great news for his owners given the attractiveness of the matchup. The Titans have allowed the second-most points to running backs on the year. You know Beckham has made it when you start getting questions on Twitter, as I did earlier this week, asking what was wrong with him in a game in which he caught seven passes for 90 yards. The Titans are in the middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to receivers, but Pro Football Focus grades them in the bottom-third of the league in pass coverage.
Titans: Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker
Wright has failed to take off in the manner many expected this season, but he did have seven catches for 132 yards and a score against Houston last week. Both he and Walker should benefit from the absence of Justin Hunter, who is out for the rest of the season with a lacerated spleen. Walker has been up and down himself, but this looks like a good week to get him in your starting lineups. The Giants have surrendered the ninth-most points to tight ends this year.
Giants: Eli Manning, Andre Williams, Rueben Randle, Preston Parker, Larry Donnell, Giants DST
Manning is the second quarterback outside the starting group, making him a slam-dunk starter in two-quarterback leagues, and a viable one in traditional leagues, depending on your roster. The Titans are fresh off allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for six touchdowns, meaning that just about anyone in the NFL could go off against them. If Jennings does have to sit because of his ankle injury, Williams would be an easy play as an RB2 in a great matchup. Donnell is one of a number of tight ends who could reasonably fall anywhere between seventh and 17th in a given week. This week, I prefer the likes of Heath Miller and Delanie Walker, his brethren on the tight end border.
Titans: Zach Mettenberger (shoulder), Jake Locker, Bishop Sankey, Shonn Greene, Nate Washington, Titans DST
Mettenberger left last week’s game with a shoulder injury, but Mettenberger said he is "definitely" playing this week. Whether it’s him or Locker, you don’t want to start the Tennessee quarterback in Week 14. The starter shouldn’t have much of an impact on Wright or Walker, either. We’ve seen both players have success and struggles with Mettenberger and Locker. Sankey hasn’t rushed for more than 50 yards in a month. He has crossed that threshold four times this year. “Sankey, fantasy weapon,” just isn’t going to happen this season.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen
DeAngelo Williams broke a bone in his hand during last week’s loss to the Vikings, and Stewart took advantage, rushing for 85 yards on 12 carries. That sort of injury doesn’t necessarily mean missed time for a running back, but Stewart has to be considered the lead dog in the Carolina backfield this week. The Saints have allowed the fourth-most points to running backs this year. Benjamin and Olsen have long been weekly starters, but it’s hard for their owners not to daydream about what could be if Cam Newton and the offensive line were just a tad more consistent. This should be a good matchup, though, in a dome and against an average-at-best defense.
Saints: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Kenny Stills, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham
Everyone listed above is an easy play. Brees, Ingram and Graham go without saying, but it is worth mentioning that Graham should have a monster performance after not getting a target last week. Stills is a reliable WR2 in the wake of Brandin Cooks’ thumb injury. He has 13 catches on 15 targets the last two weeks, going for 260 yards and a score. Colston isn’t the locked-in fantasy starter Stills is, but he has scored the last two weeks, and the Panthers defense is vulnerable through the air. It has allowed the eighth-most points to receivers this season.
Panthers: Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams (hand), Philly Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Panthers DST
Remember way back when Newton ran for 107 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 17 carries, portending a midseason breakout? Since then, he has averaged 14.5 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Just once has he scored more than 16 points in a game. He’s now the No. 17 quarterback for the season, meaning it’s a surprise when he finishes inside the top 12 at the position. This isn’t a bad matchup, but you still shouldn’t be turning to Newton unless you’re desperate.
Saints: Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson (forearm), Travaris Cadet, Saints DST
Robinson is expected to return this week, but he shouldn’t eat into Ingram’s carries too much, if at all. Thomas does have some playoff value as an RB3 or low-end flex depending on your roster situation, but you don’t want to depend on him. One factor working in his favor this week is that the Panthers have allowed 66 receptions to running backs, the 10th-most in the league. He’s still no better than an RB4, however.
New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Jets: Chris Johnson
Johnson had his best game as a Jet in a tough matchup with Miami last week, running for 105 yards on 17 carries. The Jets ran the ball 49 times while Geno Smith attempted just 13 passes, and it nearly won the game for them. Don’t be surprised to see something similar this week, though a 7-to-1 run-to-pass ratio seems a little extreme. The Vikings feature an underrated defense, but they have allowed the sixth-most points to running backs on the year. You could do worse than plugging Johnson into a flex spot this week.
Vikings: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings DST
Since getting shut out in his first game back from a sports hernia three weeks ago, Rudolph has five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they are good enough to make him a borderline starter week-to-week with the current state of the tight end position. The matchup pushes him over the edge this week, as the Jets have allowed the second-most points to tight ends this year. The Vikings defense ranks eighth in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues and is fourth in the league with 35 sacks. Any defense playing against the Jets is worth consideration, and the Vikings are worthy of starting on merit.
Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Eric Decker, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland, Jets DST
That the Jets threw the ball 13 times last week should tell you how much confidence there is internally in this passing attack. Decker and Harvin could be fantasy weapons in the right spots. We’ve seen that in the recent past. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right spot for any receiver. Ivory got 16 carries last week, just one fewer than Johnson, but he picked up only 62 yards. Chances are strong that one of them will produce as an RB2. I’ll ride the hot hand and go with Johnson.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon (back), Matt Asiata, Ben Tate, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Charles Johnson
The Vikings are unsure if McKinnon will play after he missed last week’s game with a back injury, but this wouldn’t be a great spot for him. For all of the Jets’ struggles this year, they have been tough to run on, allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points to backs. Asiata led the team with 14 carries last week, but he picked up just 52 yards against the weak Panthers’ run defense. That doesn’t bode well for him in a would-be start against the Jets. There’s some low-end WR3 potential for both Jennings and Johnson with the great matchup, but I’m looking for more than just a good matchup out of my starting lineup at this stage of the season.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith
We’re running out of opportunities to praise Forsett for the season he is enjoying in 2014, so I want to make sure to take advantage of every single one. He has 100 rushing yards in three straight games now, and is up to 1,009 yards on the season. Entering 2014, he had a total of 1,692 yards in his previous six seasons. Open another tab in your web browser, go to your fantasy league page, and search for Forsett. I’m willing to bet his owner is in the playoffs. The Ravens don’t appear concerned about the knee injury Smith suffered last week, but be sure to keep an eye on his practice participation this week.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, Dolphins DST
Tannehill flopped in what was a great matchup with the Jets last week, throwing for 235 yards and an interception. Unless you’re Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, games like this happen. The good news is he gets a great chance to bounce back this week. The Ravens have allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks and most points to receivers this year. It’s the latter stat that helps make both Wallace and Landry worth starting this week. Both players have been touchdown-dependent for their fantasy value this season. Baltimore has surrendered 14 touchdowns to receivers this year, including eight in the last five weeks.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, Ravens DST
Through the first six weeks of the season, Smith had four 100-yard games and four touchdowns. In his last six games, he has a total of 246 yards and one touchdown. Fantasy owners continue to play him on the strength of those first six games, but the bottom line is that he was playing way over his head at the beginning of the season. Torrey Smith has emerged as the true No. 1 receiver in Baltimore. Having said that, if the Maryland product is forced to sit because of his knee injury this week, Steve Smith could sneak into the fantasy starter discussion as a WR3.
Dolphins: Brian Hartline (knee), Charles Clay (knee, hamstring), Dion Sims
Hartline suffered a knee injury last week. If he sits this week, that would mean even more targets for Wallace and Landry. Sims caught all four of his targets for 58 yards last week, and is on the fringes of the starting group of tight ends, assuming Clay has to sit out again.
Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Colts: Andrew Luck, Boom Herron, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
Herron’s 49-yard touchdown run last week rightly grabbed the spotlight, but don’t overlook the fact that he picked up 39 yards on his other seven carries. He lost a fumble, but he has to be considered the Colts’ top back for the rest of the season. The Colts expect to get Dwayne Allen back from an ankle injury this week, but Fleener has turned himself into a slam-dunk starter in Allen's absence. He leads all tight ends with eight receptions on deep targets this year, going for a total of 269 yards and two scores.
Browns: Isaiah Crowell (hip), Josh Gordon
Crowell popped up on the injury report on Wednesday, so be sure to monitor this as the week progresses. Don’t hold last week’s performance against Crowell too strongly. The Bills feature potentially the league’s best rush defense, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see him held to 29 yards on 17 carries. The good news for his owners is that he got 10 more totes than Terrance West. The Colts have allowed the sixth-most points to running backs this season, making this a much better matchup for Crowell. Gordon caught seven of his 13 targets for 75 yards a week ago. He has yet to hit on a really big play, but it's just a matter of time. He’ll be a top-five receiver if Vontae Davis has to sit because of the concussion he suffered last week.
Colts: Trent Richardson, Reggie Wayne, Donte Moncrief, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Allen (ankle)
I’m a big fan of Moncrief’s and I picked him up for depth in a few leagues where I’m headed to the playoffs. Yes, his snap percentage has increased over the last two weeks, and he has moved ahead of Nicks on the depth chart. Still, he had just three catches last week, and his two long touchdowns were both thanks to completely blown coverage by the Washington secondary. I’m not plugging him into my starting lineup based on production that came via horrible play by one of the league’s worst coverage units. Herron had more yards on his touchdown last week than Richardson has had in eight entire games this year, including each of his last four.
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Cameron (concussion), Jim Dray, Gary Barnidge, Browns DST
West got just seven carries last week and lost a fumble, landing him in head coach Mike Pettine’s doghouse. If Crowell is forced to sit with a hip injury, though, West would be well worth starting in Week 14. Unfortunately for all of us, the Browns hate fun. Pettine named Hoyer the starter on Wednesday, delaying Johnny Manziel time for at least one more week. Hoyer has just 11 touchdowns against 10 interceptions on the season. The fantasy analysts clamoring for Manziel have no idea how the two quarterbacks look on the practice field, so it is possible that whatever is happening when just the Browns’ coaching staff is looking makes playing Hoyer justified. But man, it would be fun if the Browns would just hand the keys to Manziel.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
Buccaneers: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
The Lions have allowed the third-fewest points to receivers this season, but you don’t worry about matchups with Evans at this stage of the game. He has developed into a matchup-proof starter over the last seven or eight weeks, thanks to his ability to stretch the field and his size, which makes him a near-impossible cover in the red zone. The song is not the same for Jackson, but he is worthy of a flex start this week. He’s outside my top-24 receivers, but is tucked neatly inside the top 30. Think of him as a WR3 in traditional 10-team leagues.
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lions DST
Stafford’s fantasy production, when plotted on a line graph, looks like an EKG for someone with high blood pressure. He has mostly come through in favorable matchups, though, and that’s what he has this week with the Buccaneers visiting Detroit. Bell is a strong play whether or not Reggie Bush is able to return from an ankle injury this week. The Buccaneers have allowed the 10th-most points to running backs this season.
Buccaneers: Josh McCown, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers DST
Martin once again assumed control of the Tampa Bay backfield last week, running for 58 yards on 18 carries. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who’s getting the most touches among the Buccaneers’ backs. Not one is worthy of being a fantasy starter this week, and you can essentially write them off for the rest of the season. Martin and Sims are worth owning for depth purposes, but you’ll have to be in dire straits to turn to either of them as a starter.
Lions: Reggie Bush (ankle), Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron
Bush is down in the sit group for now, but he could very well be a savvy play if he returns this week. As stated earlier, the Buccaneers have allowed the 10th-most points to running backs this year. A lot of that production has come through the air. Running backs have racked up 70 catches for 494 yard and four touchdowns against Tampa Bay. If Bush is healthy, he’s a solid flex play in 10- and 12-team leagues.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Texans: Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
Foster got lost in the Ryan Fitzpatrick show last week, running for 79 yards on 19 carries. The Jaguars have allowed the eighth-most points to running backs this year, and Foster has yet to have the pleasure of facing them. It says here that he'll take advantage of the advantageous matchup. Hopkins had the best game of his career a week ago, and now has 51 catches for 922 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games with Fitzpatrick as the starter. That translates to an average of 12.82 points per game.
Jaguars: Denard Robinson
Robinson has had a couple down games in a row, running for 69 yards on 25 carries in the last two weeks. He has had 57 yards on seven receptions in that same span, but he has still been outside the top-20 running backs in both weeks. Houston doesn’t make things easy on running backs, but Robinson remains a low-end RB2 with the backfield essentially all to himself.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Blue, Andre Johnson, Garrett Graham
Fitzpatrick had a career day last week, throwing for 358 yards and six scores in a rout of the Titans. He probably shouldn’t get used to it. Fitzpatrick remains a low-end QB2 at best, especially this week, going up against a better-than-expected Jacksonville defense. Johnson has clearly lost a couple of steps this year. He hit paydirt last week, but had just 53 yards and hasn’t eclipsed the 100-yard mark once all season. He’s a low-end WR3 at best.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Toby Gerhart, Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
If you’re one of the smart owners who streams defenses on a weekly basis, you have three realistic options this week. The first two are the Vikings and Packers, who haven’t been getting enough respect from fantasy owners. The third is the Jaguars. While they are outside my top 12, there is an argument to be made for them. Despite what Fitzpatrick did last week, he’s still a quarterback no defense minds facing. The Jags are third in the league with 37 sacks, so this is a team that can get after the quarterback.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)
Bills: Fred Jackson
Jackson reassumed total control of the Buffalo backfield last week, playing 74 percent of the snaps in the team’s win over Cleveland. Bryce Brown played 17 percent, while Anthony Dixon got just nine percent of the snaps. Jackson’s the only back in Buffalo worth owning, and he's a solid flex option this week. The concern would be that this game gets out of control, but the Buffalo defense should be good enough to at least make it somewhat respectable. On top of that, Jackson would remain a part of the gameplan even if Kyle Orton has to drop back 50 times.
Broncos: Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos DST
Anderson has rushed for 167 and 168 yards, respectively, in Denver’s last two games. He should be treated as an RB1 for the rest of the season, but don’t expect him to approach those totals this week. The Bills feature one of the best run defenses in the league. Even though this game is at home, it will be a good test for the Broncos as they head into the playoffs. They may not face a better defense for the rest of the year, even if they make it all the way back to the Super Bowl.
Bills: Kyle Orton, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler, Bills DST
The case against Brown and Dixon is the necessary partner to the one for Jackson. If Jackson is playing three-quarters of the snaps, there simply isn’t enough time on the field for either Brown or Jackson to be relevant in fantasy leagues. Watkins fell off a cliff in November. In four games, he had 13 catches for 105 yards. He’s a low-end WR3 for the rest of the season. The best thing going for him this week is that the Bills may be forced to throw much more often than they usually do.
Broncos: Juwan Thompson, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas (ankle), Jacob Tamme
Thomas has missed two straight games, and he remains limited in practice this week. The thorn in fantasy owners’ sides, as it so often is when it comes to players on West division teams, is the late kickoff. If you’re a Thomas owner, you obviously have another tight end on your roster. In most cases, it won’t be worth it to wait to find out Thomas’ status, rather than going with your other, 100-percent healthy option.
Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles (knee), Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
Charles suffered a bruised knee in Kansas City’s loss to Denver last week, but it doesn’t look like something that will keep him off the field on Sunday. The Cardinals have been very tough on the run this year, but Steven Jackson just cut them up for 101 yards on 18 carries. Kelce has played at least 80 percent of the Chiefs’ snaps in each of the last three weeks, but that hasn’t translated into significant fantasy production. Such is life in the Kansas City passing attack. He’s a low-end TE1 for this week and the rest of the season.
Cardinals: Cardinals DST
The Cardinals have struggled against the pass this season, but the Chiefs aren’t a team built to take advantage of that weakness. Even with Tyrann Mathieu out after undergoing thumb surgery, the Cardinals are a top-10 defense this week.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery
Smith’s season-high in passing yards is 255, and that came back in Week 2. He has multiple touchdown passes in five games and zero touchdown passes in four games. I can’t remember where I read the following earlier this week, but I think it sums up Smith perfectly. He’s just good enough to not be the problem, but not good enough to be the solution. That’s not something you want to hear about your fantasy quarterback.
Cardinals: Drew Stanton, Andre Ellington (hip), Marion Grice, Stepfan Taylor, Larry Fitzgerald (knee), Michael Floyd, John Brown, John Carlson
Ellington suffered what appears to be a serious hip pointer last week. Chances are he won’t practice at all this week, and head coach Bruce Arians is already calling him a game-time decision for Sunday. It only adds to the headache that this is a late kickoff. The Chiefs have allowed 5.2 yards per carry and 1,476 rushing yards to backs this season, the second-highest total in the league. This wouldn’t be a bad matchup, but you have to make sure you have an insurance policy ready to plug in if Ellington is inactive. Grice would be an RB3 if he got the start.
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX)
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
The Eagles have allowed the fourth-most points to quarterbacks this year, but we can’t evaluate defenses traditionally when considering Wilson. There is, however, reason to believe that Wilson can exploit this group. Four quarterbacks have rushed for at least 30 yards against the Eagles this year. Colin Kaepernick had his second-best rushing output of the season, picking up 58 yards on seven carries against Philly. Seattle’s gameplan, as it always does, rests on the legs of Wilson and Lynch.
Eagles: Mark Sanchez, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews
McCoy has been a major disappointment to his owners this season. If you’ve managed to make it into the playoffs, though, he’s turning it on at just the right time. McCoy has 289 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, and is now 10th among backs in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Don’t worry about the matchup, here. He’s an RB1 for the rest of the season. You should be worried about the matchup for Maclin, who will likely see plenty of Richard Sherman. He’s still worth starting, but expect no better than WR2 production. Sanchez is a low-end QB1, while Matthews slots as a flex this week.
Seahawks: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Luke Willson, Cooper Helfet (ankle), Tony Moeaki
Kearse had three catches for 34 yards last week. He led all Seattle receivers in both statistics. Moeaki needed only one reception to be the team’s leading receiver with 63 yards. There is nothing at all within this passing game for the fantasy community.
Eagles: Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Eagles DST
Last week was supposed to be a great matchup for Ertz. The Cowboys had allowed 729 yards and nine touchdowns to tight ends before their Week 13 game with the Eagles. Ertz got all of one target, which he did not catch. He should be off the fantasy radar for the rest of the season, as should all of the other players, other than Philadelphia’s defense, listed above. The Eagles may have the top-scoring defensive unit this year, but Seattle just sets up as a terrible matchup for them. This is a team that doesn’t make the mistakes the Eagles have been feasting on this season.
San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX)
49ers: Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, 49ers DST
It’s either going to happen for Gore this week, or it’s not going to happen at all. The 49ers are 7-5 and in serious danger of missing the playoffs. The Raiders have one of the worst run defenses in the league, and have surrendered the most fantasy points to running backs this year. It all sets up perfectly for the 49ers to dominate this game on the ground, and Gore would have to be right at the center of that. The bet here is that Carlos Hyde and, of course, Colin Kaepernick, are involved in the ground game, too, but Gore should be the one who carries the 49ers on Sunday.
Raiders: Latavius Murray (concussion)
Murray missed last week’s game because of the concussion he suffered in his breakout performance two weeks ago, but he cleared the concussion protocol and should be good to go for Sunday. The 49ers have surrendered the sixth-fewest points to running backs this year, but they have allowed four backs to go north of 100 yards on the ground. If the Raiders can keep this game close, Murray should provide RB2 production.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde, Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson, Vernon Davis
As he is seemingly every week, Kaepnerick is just outside my top-12 quarterbacks for Week 14. He’s a high-end QB2 since the 49ers should be able to have their way with the Raiders on the ground, but I think most of that production will fall to Gore. I’ve been touting Hyde as a potential playoff sleeper for a few weeks now, and I believe he has an RB2 ceiling this week. Don’t be surprised to see the Niners give him double-digit carries, especially if they build a big lead.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Darren McFadden, James Jones, Andre Holmes, Denarius Moore, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
Carr gave way to Matt Schaub at the end of last week’s embarrassment against the Rams, but head coach Tony Sparano confirmed the rookie would remain his starter this week. That should have exactly zero impact on fantasy leagues. Carr isn’t even an option in typical two-quarterback leagues.
New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman (thigh), Rob Gronkowski
I just can’t quit Vereen, who I believe is a worthy flex play in 12-team leagues this week. It has less to do with him than the passing environment surrounding him in the New England offense. Not enough is being made this year about what Brady and that same environment is doing for LaFell. Before this year, he had 13 touchdowns in four seasons in the league. He has seven scores this season alone. The Chargers have faced four quarterbacks this year who are among the top-12 fantasy scorers. Three of those quarterbacks – Peyton Manning, Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco – scored at least 23 points against them.
Chargers: Ryan Mathews, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates
Allen has come on strong in the last two weeks, putting up a total of 17 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers should have to throw the ball a ton to keep up with the Patriots, and that should help make Allen a high-end WR2 this week. Mathews got just 40 yards on 12 carries last week, but he got into the end zone once, as well. In three games since returning from a knee injury, he has 215 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries. The Patriots have allowed 4.2 yards per carry and the 12th-most fantasy points to backs this year.
Patriots: LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Danny Amendola, Tim Wright, Patriots DST
Blount has taken over as the lead battering ram in the New England offense since signing with the team two weeks ago. He has 22 carries for 136 yards with the Patriots this year. Gray, meanwhile, has one carry in that same span. Blount is the only back of the trio above you need to own, but none should be started this week. Even though Blount could get 10-to-12 carries, his value is entirely tied to short-yardage touchdowns. You never want to rely on someone like that unless you absolutely have to.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Branden Oliver, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Chargers DST
Rivers bounced back in a big way last week, throwing for 383 yards and three scores in a huge win over the Ravens. He’s the first quarterback outside the starting group for me this week, so he could very well be your best option, and that’s not a bad thing. The Patriots are a neutral matchup for a quarterback, and chances are the volume will be there for Rivers to succeed. I only slightly prefer Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White (knee)
Jones is coming off a huge game against the Cardinals in which he caught 10 passes for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. He should be a matchup nightmare for the Packers. The Falcons also expect to have White back on the field on Monday night after he missed last week’s game. Of course, expectations aren’t any comfort to fantasy owners when talking about a questionable player in a Monday night game. The hope is that we get something that is at least close to concrete on White sometime before the early kickoff on Sunday. As someone who owns White in his most important league, I can tell you I’m planning on starting him this week. Jackson is a low-end flex in 12-team leagues.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Packers DST
It has been two calendar years and 31 touchdown passes since Rodgers last threw an interception at Lambeau Field. The Falcons have allowed more than eight yards per attempt to quarterbacks this season. Rodgers should easily have his way with this defense. Meanwhile, the Falcons have allowed the third-most points to running backs this season, making this a great matchup for Lacy, as well. It would be a shock if the Packers come up shy of 30 points. They could easily work their way into the 40s.
Falcons: Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
No team has more guys who are known to the fantasy community and yet have zero fantasy value than the Falcons. Move along, here.
Packers: James Starks, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers
Adams has low-end WR3 value and is right in line with guys like Donte Moncrief and Stedman Bailey. He had his best game of the season last week, catching six passes for 121 yards, though he did drop what would have been a walk-in touchdown. Perhaps more importantly, he got a career-high 11 targets in the win over the Patriots. He has become a rock-solid part of the Green Bay offense, and should carry that low-end WR3 value for the rest of the season.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson
Running Backs: Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Justin Forsett, C.J. Anderson, Mark Ingram, LeSean McCoy, Rashad Jennings, Alfred Morris, Giovani Bernard, Isaiah Crowell, Tre Mason, Ryan Mathews, Joique Bell, Frank Gore, Denard Robinson, Lamar Miller, Boom Herron, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Johnson
Wide Receivers: Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Odell Beckham, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery, Golden Tate, Mike Evans, Emmanuel Sanders, Keenan Allen, Brandon Marshall, Kelvin Benjamin, Anquan Boldin, Jeremy Maclin, Kenny Stills, Torrey Smith
Flex: Steven Jackson, Fred Jackson, Jeremy Hill, Shane Vereen, Kendall Wright, Mike Wallace, Julian Edelman, Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Latavius Murray, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Matthews
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett, Coby Fleener, Antonio Gates, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Jason Witten, Heath Miller, Kyle Rudolph, Delanie Walker
Defenses/Special Teams: Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs
On the Cusp
Quarterbacks: Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco
Flex: Reggie Bush, LeGarrette Blount, Donte Moncrief, Stedman Bailey, Sammy Watkins, Steve Smith, Mohamed Sanu
Tight Ends: Larry Donnell, Dion Sims
Defenses: New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles