After months of research, mock drafts, waiver wire adds, trades and more, it’s finally here. The fantasy playoffs.
Playoffs? ( Jim Mora voice).
That’s right. Playoffs.
I hope all of you are in the second season in fantasy land. I sincerely do. However, while celebrating may occur, your work isn’t finished yet. Now is the time where decisions become even more crucial, more stressful. Let me continue to offer a helping hand.
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Alex Smith @ Washington Redskins: Read my lips, err, words. Alex Smith will win many fantasy championships. Don’t look now, but he has been a QB1 in each of the last three weeks, posting fantasy totals of 26, 27 and 26. He’s been very strong, throwing for seven touchdowns during that span, and is making more downfield passes. He has a great Week 14 matchup against the lowly Redskins secondary that has surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to signal callers. Washington is allowing 1.9 passing touchdowns per game, which is tied for the third-most among defenses. Also, Kansas City’s defense has been slipping as of late, surrendering 34 points per game during their three-game losing streak. If they continue to struggle, perhaps Smith will have to throw even more. He’s also averaging four or five rushing attempts per game, which gives owners increased value.
Ryan Fitzpatrick @ Denver Broncos: Not only has his beard been glorious (per usual), but so have his fantasy totals. In fact, over the last three weeks, only Peyton Manning and Cam Newton are averaging more fantasy points per game (22.5). He’s given you roughly 27,17,27 and 17 over his last four. I like him to get at least 20 again this week, as he heads to Denver to face a beat-up Broncos secondary. This unit is allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to signal callers, and Fitzpatrick should have to throw a lot, just like seemingly every quarterback to face Denver. Tennessee should be behind, and this season, opposing offenses are averaging 41.2 pass attempts per game, the second-most in the league.
Joe Flacco vs Minnesota Vikings: This is strictly based on the matchup, as Flacco has done nothing to prove worthy of a start. However, Minnesota is so, so bad against the pass, folks. They are allowing a league-high 26 passing touchdowns on the year, while only picking off eight passes. Only three signal callers have failed to toss double-digit touchdowns in 12 games this season, and nine quarterbacks have finished as a QB1 during the week they face Minnesota. I think Torrey Smith makes a few huge plays in this game, and it is in Baltimore, which bodes well for Flacco, who is horrible on the road.
Andrew Luck @ Cincinnati Bengals: Luck is in a bit of a fantasy funk, and is no longer a must-start option. Over the last three weeks, he’s thrown just one touchdown to two interceptions, is averaging just 231.7 yards per game and is averaging 14.7 fantasy points. Ugly. He opens up the fantasy playoffs with the Bengals tough defense, surrendering the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Luck’s receivers are struggling to get open, as well as dropping passes (looking at you, DHB). The Bengals, meanwhile, rank in the top-10 in passing yards allowed (213.8 per game) and opposing signal callers are sporting a completion percentage of 57.9%, which is the 4th-fewest among defenses. And via Rich Hribar, only 10 of the last 42 quarterbacks to face defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer have finished as a QB1. I’m not trusting Luck in my fantasy playoffs.
Colin Kaepernick vs Seattle Seahawks: Kaepernick is another guy that will win fantasy championships. Just not in Week 14. The Seahawks vaunted defense comes to town, a unit that is depleted in their secondary, but is still arguably the best in football. They are allowing just 12.51 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, which is the second-fewest, and held Drew Brees to under 150 passing yards on Monday night. Kaepernick has been a back-and-forth fantasy option, and in two career games against Seattle, he is completing 49.6 percent of his passes for 371 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Wait one more week to unleash Kaepernick.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
DeMarco Murray @ Chicago Bears: After a monster three-touchdown performance, Murray should once again finish as an RB1 in Week 14. When Dallas features him extensively in the offense, he’s great. On Thanksgiving, Murray saw over 20 total touches for the first time since Week 3, and it paid off, clearly. Murray has an ideal matchup on tap for this week. Someone needs to contact Brian Urlacher and persuade him to come out of retirement because this defense is beat-up and ugly. Chicago is allowing the most rushing yards per game (153.6). That’s almost 20 more yards than the next highest team. Running backs versus the Bears are averaging 4.9 yards per carry, scoring 14 touchdowns, including two through the air. If the numbers are any indication, Dallas will run the football in this one. On the season, opposing offenses are averaging 30.7 rushing attempts per game. Murray is easily a top-10 play this week.
Bobby Rainey vs Buffalo Bills: The matchup isn’t as favorable as you may think, but I can’t but help love Rainey this week. He’s been very impressive since taking over the starting job, and believe me, it is 100 percent his job for the taking. Over the last three weeks, Rainey has averaged 23 touches per game, and since Week 11’s outburst against Jacksonville, he’s out-snapped Brian Leonard 122-48. Buffalo comes to town, a defense that was just shredded for three rushing touchdowns last week. They may not surrender a ton of rushing scores, but they are vulnerable against the run, allowing 121.5 yards per game on the ground. Rainey will catch the ball, see 15-20 carries and with that volume, I like his chances of producing solid fantasy numbers.
Le’Veon Bell vs Miami Dolphins: I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong, and I totally whiffed on Bell on Thanksgiving night. Against a stout run defense that had allowed just one rushing touchdown heading into this game, Bell carried the ball 16 times for 73 yards and a score, while also hauling in a career-high seven balls for 63 yards. Unfortunately, he took a nasty blow to the head, and appears to have a concussion. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Bell still has to go through concussion protocol, but “looks good” to play. If that’s the case, I like him a lot against a Miami defense that has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to rushers (23.47).
Rashad Jennings @ New York Jets: Jennings also suffered a concussion on Thanksgiving. He did it, however, after scoring two rushing touchdowns to salvage a rather poor day. It looks like signs are pointing towards him being available this week, but I won’t be starting him. The Jets have the ugliest offense in football, but the best run defense as well. New York is allowing the fewest rushing yards per game (77) and the fewest fantasy points (14.19). Only one running back (Jacquizz Rodgers) has finished as an RB1 against this stout run defense. Whether it’s Jennings or Darren McFadden in the backfield, both are must-sits.
Ryan Mathews vs New York Giants: Mathews hasn’t been the fantasy tease that many were expecting, but I don’t like him this week. The Giants run defense has quietly been very strong. They are allowing just 18.13 fantasy points per game to running backs, which is the 10th-fewest in football. New York is also allowing the ninth-fewest rushing yards per game (102.2), but more importantly, I can’t trust his usage. Only once all season has Mathews seen more than 50 percent of the snaps in a game, and I think the Chargers will have to throw the ball in this game, which benefits Danny Woodhead, not Mathews.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Riley Cooper vs Detroit Lions: Cooper has cooled off over the last two games, catching just six balls for 85 yards and zero scores. However, I still absolutely love him this week. Nick Foles is playing the quarterback position better than anyone in football right now (never thought I’d say that), and Cooper gets plenty of looks from him. He’s been targeted at least five times in all but two games this season, and the matchup is great. Over the last six games, Detroit has surrendered 14 scores through the air, and have been particularly vulnerable to opposing number two receivers. In seven of their last nine games, an opposing number two wideout has scored. Cooper is a top-20 play for me.
Nate Burleson @ Philadelphia Eagles: Staying in the same game here, I like Burleson a lot as a sneaky play this week, especially in PPR formats. Sure, he laid an untimely goose egg last week, but prior to that game, he’s caught either six or seven balls in every game this year. I think this game could be an absolute shootout, and Burleson will benefit. The Eagles are currently allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers (39.43). That’s four points more than the next highest team (Buffalo). Philly has had their own struggles with number two wideouts, as they’ve allowed six secondary receivers to finish as top-12 wideouts in fantasy. I like Burleson to have a nice bounceback game.
Mike Wallace @ Pittsburgh Steelers: I don’t like it, but I’m going with my gut here. In a revenge, playing against former team game, I think Wallace goes bonkers. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing better lately, and more importantly, Steelers corner Ike Taylor has not. Over his last three games, Taylor has surrendered a whopping 509 yards and four touchdowns. Granted, they were against three of the better wideouts in football, but Wallace spent plenty of time in Pittsburgh. He knows this defense, practiced against Taylor on a daily basis. I’m never typically a fan of his, but I have a funny feeling about the Dolphins’ burner this week.
Emmanuel Sanders vs Miami Dolphins: Sanders has found the end zone in consecutive outings, but I am not advising him as a solid start this week. Miami has been very, very tough against the pass this season, surrendering the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts (19.83) and still have only allowed one receiver to score on them this entire season. If you are chasing the points with Sanders, you may regret it.
Michael Crabtree vs Seattle Seahawks: He’s obviously talented, but combined a wideout coming off an Achilles injury with the Seahawks secondary, and I’m holding off on Crabtree for at least another week.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Jared Cook @ Arizona Cardinals: Number one rule of fantasy: Start all of your tight ends against the Cardinals. All of them. Coming into Week 13, Arizona had allowed 11 touchdowns to the tight end position. Then, Zach Ertz went ahead and scored twice, Brent Celek found the end zone, and boom, that total improved to 14. Arizona is also coughing up an average of 18.81 fantasy points per game to tight ends, which is five points more than anyone in football. On the season, the Cardinals have let seven tight ends finish as a TE1, including three as the top tight end for that week. Oh yeah. Cook was the number one tight end in fantasy back in Week 1 when he went off for 141 yards and two scores.
Heath Miller vs Miami Dolphins: Miller is really coming on as a PPR option, largely due to the fact that he is dominating as Big Ben’s safety valve. Over his last three games, Miller has been targeted 25 times, catching 21 of those passes. You know Ben looks his way, especially in the end zone, and it just so happens that the Dolphins are giving up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends, and have allowed a touchdown to the position in each of their last two games.
Jordan Cameron @ New England Patriots: Cameron just hasn’t been productive lately. His targets have been inconsistent, has only been targeted once (once!) in the end zone since Jason Campbell took over, and now, yet another new signal caller appears to be in line to start for Cleveland. Alex Tanney (google him) will be under center this week. I can’t trust Cameron in a tough matchup. It appears this magical season is over.
Thumbs Up; D/ST
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets: I hate, hate to do this, considering Oakland isn’t necessarily a good defense. However, the matchup is too favorable to pass up. Geno Smith is one pace for 127 turnovers (hyperbole) and opposing defenses are averaging 17 fantasy points over their last three games against the Jets, and the fact of the matter is, they have zero weapons on this offense.
Saints defense vs Carolina Panthers: New Orleans has been solid this season, but with Cam and company coming to town, I think we see a shootout in this massive game for the NFC South lead. If you want 6.25 fantasy points, which is what opposing defenses are averaging against the Panthers, by all means, go ahead.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.