NFL Week 14 has arrived. For many fantasy enthusiasts, this means the start of the playoffs. Certain NFL stars have been underachieving, some have terrible matchups and others are hampered by injuries. This is where sleepers come into play.
Finding a must-start sleeper candidate to plug into a fantasy lineup could be the difference between advancing to the next round or having the season end early.
It is crucial to find the right sleepers with good upside and favorable matchups. These factors must come into play if this type of player is to find his way into the starting lineup.
Let's take a look at four sleepers at different positions who could help bolster fantasy squads this week.
Andre Holmes, WR, Oakland Raiders (vs. New York Jets)
Holmes burst onto the scene on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys. He was able to connect with quarterback Matt McGloin seven times for a total of 136 yards. McGloin has shown an increasing amount of confidence in the wide receiver, targeting him a team-high 11 times in Week 13.
McGloin, himself, has been impressive of late, as he has been able to throw for 799 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in his four games played this season. He is a capable enough quarterback to ensure that Holmes will get a fair chance to produce.
Who the heck is Andre Holmes and where did he come from? #Raiders— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) November 29, 2013
Holmes finds himself with a very favorable matchup in Week 14 against the Jets' secondary. Currently, the Jets are ranked 25th in the league, allowing an average of 256.8 passing yards per game.
To make his matchup even better, Holmes is not viewed as the No. 1 receiver on the Raiders offense. This means that he will most likely find himself lined up against rookie cornerback Dee Milliner.
Milliner has struggled mightily this season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has him ranked 108th out of 112 eligible cornerbacks.
If a boost at the wide receiver position is needed, don't hesitate to take a shot with Holmes.
Josh McCown, QB, Chicago Bears (vs. Dallas Cowboys)
To the surprise of many, McCown has played extremely well in the absence of Jay Cutler. In each of his six games played this season, McCown has been able to post a passer rating of at least 90.7.
He is coming off his best fantasy performance of the season after throwing for 355 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13.
McCown has been accurate and has been able to establish chemistry with his offensive weapons. It seems as though head coach Marc Trestman's offensive scheme fits McCown's game nicely.
Even with today's loss to the Vikings, Josh McCown's been surprisingly great for the Bears: http://t.co/VU8t72xG1H— Deadspin (@Deadspin) December 1, 2013
Looking at McCown's Week 14 matchup, it appears as though he will have an opportunity to shine once again. He will be facing the Cowboys' 31st-ranked pass defense. Dallas is currently giving up an average of 294.9 pass yards per game.
Fantasy owners should keep tabs on the health of Cutler throughout the week. However, recent indications are that he is unlikely to suit up on Monday. According to the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer, both Cutler and Trestman are wary about the quarterback's availability this week.
Start McCown with confidence.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (vs. St. Louis Rams)
Ellington was inactive during the Cardinals' Week 13 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. His absence was noticed, as Arizona was only able to put up 21 points and consequently lost the game.
The Cardinals are still 7-5 and in the thick of a playoff race. They'll want Ellington back in the lineup against the Rams this week.
In Ellington's absence last week, Rashard Mendenhall carried the bulk of the workload. He rushed 18 times for 76 yards, averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. However, he does not have the explosiveness of the rookie.
Ellington has shone whenever he has been given the opportunity this season, as he is currently averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He has been an electrifying rusher and reliable receiver out of the backfield.
The stunner is Andre Ellington is inactive for the #Cardinals. Huge loss. Team's leading rusher. Versatile threat out of backfield— Eagles Insider (@EaglesInsider) December 1, 2013
Mendenhall and Ellington could not be more different statistically. While Ellington has flourished, rushing 73 times for 441 yards this season, Mendenhall has only been able to muster 467 yards on 148 carries. That means Mendenhall has carried 75 more times than Ellington, but has only gained 26 more yards.
Head coach Bruce Arians will look to get the offense back on track this week against a Rams defense that ranks 15th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game with an average of 109.0.
St. Louis has also given up 13 rushing touchdowns to opponents this season—Ellington has a great chance to take advantage here.
Fantasy owners could be heavily rewarded by adding this speedy rookie to their Week 14 lineups.
Jared Cook, TE, St. Louis Rams (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
Cook is a little better-known than the rest of the aforementioned players. However, after a dominant Week 1 performance this season, he has failed to duplicate his early success.
That could all change this week against the Cardinals.
Despite his lack of production, Cook has continued to see a fair amount of targets each week. In fact, he has seen at least five targets in five of his last six games. That number has a great chance to increase this week.
According to ESPN.com, the Cardinals are ranked dead last in the league in points given up to tight ends with an average of 14.8 per game. The Cardinals have given up 79 receptions for 1,042 yards and 14 touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season.
They are currently the only team in the league to have given up double-digit scores to the position.
In Week 1, Jared Cook put 7/141/2 on ARZ. Since then, he's topped 50 yards just once and has two TDs. ARZ getting ravaged by TEs all year.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) December 2, 2013
Many fantasy owners jumped ship when Cook failed to continue to produce over the course of the 2013 season. This week would be a great time to stick with the five-year veteran.
Fantasy owners who have stashed Cook on the bench will be rewarded for doing so. Sticking Cook in the starting lineup this week will help propel fantasy teams into the next round of the playoffs.