Fantasy Playoffs? You kidding me?
If you're here, reading this article in Week 14, congratulations are probably in order.
Most fantasy leagues begin their playoffs this week so that they can have their championships in Week 16 and avoid the occasional random benching that happens when teams clinch early.
There are actually a lot of teams which will still be contending in Week 17 this year, but I always agree with the sentiment that it's better safe than sorry.
So if you're in your playoffs and don't have a bye, this is a big week and one which you have to be careful with.
Really, it's the depth players—your No. 4 receiver or No. 3 running back—which will win or lose the championship for you.
Aside from the high-end studs, there is nobody who is a lock to your lineup. Don't just start names for your depth—start proven players with good matchups.
And sometimes you have to bench someone who doesn't fit those criteria even if he has a "name."
Let's take a look at some players who should be great starts this week, as well as those you should avoid or at least minimize their impact on your lineup.
There’s an awful lot of talk about just how good the Jets' defensive front is, but what gets lost on some fantasy owners is that while the front line is good, the secondary really isn't. As of the end of Week 13, the secondary ranks No. 25 in the NFL, averaging 256.8 net passing yards allowed per game, with 22 touchdowns given up versus seven interceptions (No. 25 in the NFL this year) and 33 sacks (tied for No. 12 in the league) generated to date.
The receivers torching the Jets are not all Hall of Famers either.
Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens beat them for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Buffalo Bills rookie Marquise Goodwin totaled 81 yards and a score and second-year receiver T.J. Graham scored a touchdown and put up 74 yards.
This past weekend, Miami receiver Brian Hartline lit them up for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, second-year Oakland Raider Rod Streater got hot in Week 11 against the Houston Texans and has carried that momentum through the last two games.
In Week 12, he had 93 yards receiving, and while his Thanksgiving numbers were down (he netted only three catches for 57 yards), his totals for the last three weeks (21 targets resulting in 14 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown) are strong.
In this matchup, he should be started as usual, a No. 3 fantasy receiver with upside.
San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews continues to be nearly impossible to predict. After two straight 100-yard games in Weeks 6 and 7, Mathews got just seven carries for 34 yards against Washington in Week 9.
He scored against Denver in Week 10, but failed to reach 100 yards, then ran for 127 yards in Week 11 but failed to score.
The last two weeks he scored but had only 65 yards (Week 12 vs. Kansas City) and 61 yards (Week 13 vs. Cincinnati).
At least against Cincinnati he added 31 yards receiving, but he’s struggling.
The New York Giants have been very tough on the run.
The Giants have shut down some very good backs.
They limited the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy in Week 11 (27 yards), the Oakland Raiders' Rashad Jennings in Week 10 (88 yards), the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy in Week 8 (48 yards) and the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson in Week 7 (28 yards).
A quarterback escaping the way Griffin can is one thing—but the Giants shut down Morris, one of the better backs in the NFL.
San Diego has a tough passing game with quarterback Philip Rivers and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, so Mathews might have some room to move, but the Giants will not let the run game get going.
As you can expect a sub-100-yard game and no touchdown, it’s a better idea to find a running back with a more favorable matchup and get him in your lineup in place of Mathews.
It’s been a long season for Maurice Jones-Drew's fantasy GMs and a long time since they were able to start him with confidence.
He faced a tough defense in the Cleveland Browns after totaling 144 yards and a touchdown against the terrible Houston Texans.
While he didn’t score against the Browns in Week 13, he had 77 yards and the team leaned on him for key yards.
He’s had some solid games lately and now gets another look at the Texans in Week 14.
You should have no issue starting Jones-Drew again this week, and the expectations should be just as high as they were in Week 12.
Anquan Boldin is coming off a big-time performance against the St. Louis Rams, but the celebration may be short-lived for fantasy owners.
With Michael Crabtree back—and with a game under his belt—the focus of this offense is going to shift completely in his direction.
That’s good and bad for Boldin owners.
First, the bad news.
Boldin’s not going to see a tremendous ton of targets anymore.
Really, nobody in San Francisco’s offense has seen an overabundance of targets. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled, the offensive line has struggled and the other receivers haven’t been able to get open very often.
But Boldin has had far more targets than anyone besides tight end Vernon Davis.
That’s going to be changing.
Fewer targets equals fewer opportunities, and fewer opportunities cuts down on Boldin’s upside.
The good thing is that he won’t see as much defensive attention as he has been seeing, and his targets, while fewer, will be of higher quality.
Keep all that in your pocket for the next two weeks (against Tampa Bay and Atlanta), because it’s not going to be a big factor this week.
Boldin and the Niner offense go up against one of the best defenses in the league in the Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks secondary has lost Brandon Browner to suspension again, via SI.com, they are still very tough, as evidenced by their dismantling of the New Orleans Saints offense on Monday night.
This is not a good matchup for any receiver for San Francisco, but Crabtree and Davis will get the most targets and Boldin will get too few to be productive.
Find a better matchup and use Boldin in the next round of playoffs instead.
Even though he has turned the ball over in the last few games, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has also done a very good job getting the ball in the end zone and totaling yards as well.
The last two games have seen Smith throw for 587 yards and five touchdowns.
This past game against Denver, Smith also added 46 yards on the ground.
While Smith isn’t a gunslinger, he can clearly pile up the yards and touchdowns, and he faces a prime matchup this week.
We know how bad Washington’s secondary is, as we talk about it virtually every week. While the Chiefs don’t have one receiver you can count on each week, and Smith tends to move the targets around each game, you can count on Smith to put up some good fantasy points against the No. 27 pass defense in the NFL.
Expect a couple of touchdowns and 250 yards at minimum as Smith lights up this thin Washington secondary.
It’s been hard to nail down what Lamar Miller—or the Miami Dolphins offense as a whole—will do week to week.
Not so this week.
Miller, who has had one 100-yard rushing game in 12 weeks, is going to find it very tough to do much of anything against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense which has allowed just 208 rushing yards to running backs over the last three weeks.
Once upon a time, the Steelers defense looked awful, but it has clawed its way back, and even now its No. 18 ranking isn’t representative of what it's capable of.
Miller also tends to share too many carries with fellow running back Daniel Thomas and, as such, both backs have a very low ceiling, and in cases like this, that should keep them out of your lineup.
Tennessee Titans receiver Kendall Wright has been a very consistent receiver for fantasy GMs this season. In a standard league (non-point-per-reception and one point per 10 yards receiving), Wright has netted you between seven and nine points almost every week.
Until Week 12, he hadn’t reached the end zone, but for what he is—a No. 3 receiver with upside—Wright has been a productive start.
The Denver Broncos aren’t a dominating pass defense and currently rank No. 29 in the league, averaging 284 net passing yards allowed per game with 23 TDs given away.
Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a great quarterback either, but he can get the ball to Wright and Wright will continue to put up solid points.
The least two weeks have shown his upside and this week will continue that.
Who has averaged just 40.5 yards and no touchdowns over the last four games? And who is averaging just 59.75 yards per game for the whole season?
If you answered that with a resounding “Wes Welker,” well, you won’t be happy with the following words.
Not only has Welker been underwhelming for the last four games (and aside from some early touchdown production, most of the 2013 fantasy season), but his targets have also dropped over the last three games.
In Week 11, he saw 10 targets, but the number dropped down to eight in Week 12 and just five this past week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The problem isn’t Welker—he’s still a solid player. No, the issue is too many mouths to feed on offense.
We know that quarterback Peyton Manning will throw, but all too often his throws aren’t directed at Welker.
This week, the Broncos face the No. 7 pass defense in the NFL, which has allowed just eight passing touchdowns while generating 10 interceptions.
The Tennessee Titans play solid pass defense, make no mistake.
Again, the Denver Broncos will move the chains—in part because they have too many weapons to cover—but Welker is no sure bet to be any more of a factor this week than he was the last four games.
Find someone with a better matchup or a hotter streak of games. If you have to start Welker in your first round of playoffs, hedge your bets—let him be no more than a No. 4 receiver or a flex play.
But if you have any choice with more upside, keep Welker out of the starting lineup.
Last week, I said to sit Eddie Lacy and I know some of you thought I was nuts.
The Detroit Lions defense was no joke and bottled him up, keeping Lacy at a terrible 1.6 yards-per-carry average and allowing him just 16 yards on 10 carries.
This week, he faces a run defense which has been a great rebound defense for fantasy running backs coming off poor weeks of production.
A banged-up C.J. Spiller blew the Atlanta Falcons defense up for 149 yards on 15 carries, adding a touchdown to the damage. His fellow backfield denizen added 42 yards and a score as well.
The Falcons are allowing 135.4 yards per game and are ranked a dismal No. 30 versus the run this season.
Eddie Lacy will get the full load of carries this week and see a much less impressive stacked front than he did on Thanksgiving.
You can once again start him as a solid No. 2 running back, with upside to spare this week.
For most of the game during the Buffalo Bills' loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Stevie Johnson's day was mediocre.
And then he caught a pass late in the game and turned it upfield. Just when he reached field-goal range, the ball was punched out of his hands and recovered by the Falcons.
That's pretty much Johnson's season in a nutshell. A moment of glory which turns to ashes seconds later.
This week, he sees a pretty decent Tampa Bay secondary.
The best-case scenario is Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis leaves the game again with more shoulder and chest issues.
The worst case is Revis is fine (as the team expects) and is covering Johnson.
Johnson has done OK against Revis before when Revis was a New York Jet. Those were different days for Johnson, though—he was healthy, focused and much more productive than he has been this year.
The Bucs can bring pressure on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who might struggle to get the ball out. On top of that, Manuel will spread the ball around if need be—though Johnson gets the bulk of the targets when healthy.
The problem is, even when he gets targeted, Johnson is only catching 52.9 percent of his targets.
It's not enough, especially if you need to count on him in the first round of your fantasy playoffs.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.